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Nov15ThuAfter years of hurt, I thought I was done with the church. Then God broke through to me. November 15, 2018 by Lieutenant Rick Apperson
I was at the end of my rope. I felt like I was dying of thirst in a parched desert. I began to seriously contemplate ending my life.
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How did this happen? I had been a Christian for more than 20 years and served the Lord on the mission field. Yet here I was, driving down a rain-slicked road, considering which tree to slam my car into. I could not believe my life had turned out this way. I hated everything about the church and the people who sat in the pews. I was angry at God and at myself. I cried out to God in a loud voice, “I can’t take it anymore!” And that was when he broke through the dark clouds hovering over my life.
I surrendered my heart to Jesus Christ in 1984 during a weeklong vacation Bible school. I had been searching for something for a few years and my interest in “spiritual things” was growing. I was just 13 but I was already looking into extrasensory perception, palm reading and a few other things. I was raised nominally Catholic so I prayed the Lord’s Prayer and said Hail Mary, but I gave the Bible just a cursory look. I was praying to a God I thought I believed in and at one point said a “sinner’s prayer” I found in a Christian booklet that was tossed out at a parade. But I did not know what it all meant.
Vacation Bible school changed that. I learned about the love of Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross. I went home the first night and could not sleep, realizing I was a sinner and that Jesus was the answer I had been seeking all those years. The next night I sat on the edge of the pew, aisle seat, and waited with anticipation for the speaker to offer a chance to respond to the gospel. When he did, I nearly leapt from my seat. I made a decision that I thought I would never regret.
And then I started going to church.
Initially, I was excited by the newness of it all. Then I asked the assistant pastor of the church where I gave my heart to Christ what would happen if I sinned. He told me that I would lose my salvation. As a freshly minted 13-year-old believer, this offhanded and unhelpful comment started me on a course I was not prepared for. I began to doubt my salvation. Was it real? Did I sin already and lose it all? Of course, I did sin, so was I bound for hell or did I need to say the sinner’s prayer again and again? My young mind was whirling.
But what happened next was far worse. At that time, my mom was suffering from multiple sclerosis and was dying. Many people were praying for her, and one night, she was healed instantaneously. Muscles that had atrophied were now fresh and renewed. My mom, who could not lift her arms and had no muscles, could now run a relay race, beat me in arm-wrestling and ride a bike around the neighbourhood. But while we rejoiced at this miracle, our assistant pastor suggested that Satan had healed my mom to cause a distraction in our life.
We quickly found a new church, which turned out to be damaging in different ways. Members were spied on, and the pastor grilled children for information about their parents to use in Sunday sermons. There was also a huge emphasis placed on the wealthy members of the congregation, so when my family went through hard times, we were treated as second-class citizens. This was particularly hard when my dad’s business folded in the middle of an economic downturn and we began to sell off our belongings to put food on the table. Eventually we had no home.
We went to church after church. At first, they would help us, but when no improvement in our circumstances came, they would turn away. According to these churches, we suffered financially because we had sinned. Nevertheless, I was determined to maintain my faith in the Lord despite the church and his people.
As time went on, I tried many different churches—I even went overseas and saw a whole new style of church—to no avail. The damage had been done. As I grew older and moved out on my own, I became bitter and resentful about the way I was treated by the churches I came into contact with. And as I struggled with personal sin that I seemed unable to conquer, I grew depressed and anxious. My sin, hurts and frustrations developed to the point that I began to seriously contemplate ending my life. When I was at my worst, openly talking about suicide, one church we went to for help would not come to pray for me since I was not a member; they told us to come back and talk to the pastor another day.
Then finally, while driving down that rainy road in 2003, the Lord broke through. As I cried out and told him that I could not take it anymore, I felt God tell me that I was correct—only he could take away my pain. He led me to a fellow believer who shared some deep biblical truths with me. The first was that God is a Father who cares, who tends his flock like a shepherd (see Isaiah 40:11). He also helped me understand my identity in Christ. As Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Christ took my sins to the cross. He is living in me now and he has been since I first gave my heart to him. It took some time, but the Lord rebuilt my life, my marriage and my whole being. I am a new creation in Christ Jesus.
I began to reflect on my journey and as I came to understand my identity in Christ, I also gained a new perspective on my past hurts. The hurts were real but I also saw threads of hope. I began to write and preach about these threads. Some of the lessons I learned were simple, such as the power of a shared meal. I realized that when we eat together, genuine fellowship can happen, and through the building of relationships, walls can come down and true care can develop. I also learned more about God’s grace and the place of wealth and poverty in our walk with God. I wrote a sermon on the power of a surrendered life, exploring how humbly bending our knee and our will to the Lord can transform our life; how surrender helps us acknowledge our brokenness and leads to the healing of heart and mind. Eventually, I had written quite a few pages and realized I had the makings of a book. I reached out to friends around the world and asked for their church stories—good and bad—and incorporated them into the book.
But the Lord was not done yet. My resurrection journey came full circle with The Salvation Army. I started working in the Army’s food bank in Smithers, B.C., in 2006. Though I enjoyed the job, I was hesitant to become more involved with the Army. I had not yet learned to trust. But when the executive director of the Army’s Bulkley Valley Social Services in Smithers moved to Port Hardy, B.C., the area commander offered me the position. I said yes but swore to myself and friends that I would never become a soldier. Yet when, as executive director, I was invited to attend a retreat for officers, I saw an Army I wanted to join. I became a soldier, thinking I would never become an officer. Again, it wasn’t long before I felt the Lord tugging on my heart. Though I resisted, one day, while leaving the office, I felt the Lord asking me why I was “kicking against the goads.” I did not have a good answer. I began to seriously consider officership, and as I did, my lingering doubts and concerns about churches as a whole melted away.
Today I am a newly commissioned lieutenant, serving in Terrace, B.C. The man who once felt he had been killed by the church has been resurrected by Christ and now works for a worldwide movement that dates back to 1865. God is amazing.
Lieutenant Apperson’s book, Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ, is available in bookstores or through online booksellers.