My Testimony

November 30, 2016

Jeremy Stanley Schooler

 

I am almost ten years old in the Lord Jesus now. I am 37 years old in this world. I have an amazing wife and we have three wonderful children – two daughters and the youngest, a boy. We are in birthday season for the children. The boy just turned 4 and the two girls will be turning 7 and 9 this next month. As I come up on my spiritual birthday, December 17, I am taking time to reflect on many things. The most important of those things is what the Lord Jesus has and is doing in my life. But there are also all those things of this life. That is, those things and people and seasons that come and go. Some of those are not very important, some are huge! Some things, probably more than we often recognize, are seemingly very small yet as we reflect back on them we can see how they were minor, but life altering adjustments to our circumstances. We can see how those minor course changes coupled with time brought us to situations we would otherwise never known.

These reflections and some other recent circumstances, that I won’t get into here, have led me to write “My Testimony”. If you are reading this, I pray that you are blessed and encouraged by it. Please know that there are so many more details that could be added to this. Much like those reflections I just mentioned, some of those details are small and some are huge and some seem very minor, yet in the end, are tremendously life altering. I think that this, for now, is enough to get a broad overview of how I came to know the Lord Jesus as God and Savior. And that is really all that matters. May He be glorified!

 

I grew up in one town and in the same house throughout my childhood.

My very earliest memory is the day my mother left our family. It’s a very vague memory that I was not even sure was an actual memory until I recently confirmed it with my dad. While that may seem like some sort of significant event for a child to remember, it is not or at least not to me. Like I said it is so vague that I did not even know that it was actually a memory until recently. Some people can tend to get all psychobabble about that sort of thing. That really is not an appropriate application in my case. As you read on, I think you’ll see that I did not suffer without a mom in my life. My dad did an exceptional job of loving and helping two young boys, my brother and I, understand and differentiate as necessary. I really had a wonderful childhood. Looking back on it, I was a bit spoiled with some of the great experiences I was privileged to be a part of. My mother leaving my family is simply my earliest memory and as such seemed like a good place to start. It also plays into some of my history and home life so to that end it seems noteworthy.

My mother decided to divorce my dad and left us when I was 4 years old. I have one brother, two years younger than me, from her. I basically have no memory of her involvement in my life except for the occasional phone calls and presents on our birthdays. There were also a couple of times throughout the years that we had visits with her during the summer. I remember when my dad was sad after she left, but not really totally understanding. I also remember some really sweet times with my dad during those times. It’s these memories that make it so that I have never felt so much sad for me or my dad about these early times in my life. Any sadness I have ever felt, was always for my mother. She missed something so incredibly precious. It is only at the stage in my life of having children that I am starting to really recognize that.

Anyways, moving on, my dad married the woman who became my mom a few years later – just after my seventh birthday. She has been mom ever since. My little sister was born from that marriage – 9 years younger than me. I’m the oldest of the three of us. Technically, I also have another younger brother that came from a relationship my mother went on to have, however, I barely know him.

Growing up my dad was/is a professing believer. Although, to my knowledge, he has not been to any sort of regular church service or Bible study since back in those very early years. It’s probably been 30 years or so. I have no memory of ever being a part of any sort of Christian fellowship as a child.

My dad did send my little brother and me to a private Christian school for a time. It was there that I heard things about the Bible and God and basic Christian tenants. It was sometime during those elementary years that I prayed to have Jesus in my heart. I don’t remember what the scenario was. I only know that it was at that private school and with my class. There must have been some sort of communication of the gospel. I just remember the class being asked if they wanted to believe in Jesus to raise their hand and pray a prayer. So, I raised my hand and I prayed a prayer with them. That’s it for that. As you read on, you will see that this was clearly not a born again as a child of God event. However, it was something that I remembered and would fall back on whenever someone asked me about religion. After that the school changed management and the tuition went up. My dad could not continue to afford it. I started in public school in sixth grade. That marks the time when everything started to go down for me. However, I would never fully blame the change of schools for my actions. It was simply a change of seasons and a good place to put a mark on the timeline of my life.

During sixth grade I got in some trouble. Mostly for just being the active kid that I was and that going unchecked and unchanneled. Then in seventh-grade my grades dropped so much that I needed to go to summer school. It was during summer school that I met an older boy and was influenced by him. I started smoking cigarettes that summer. Then, the following school year, during eighth-grade I started smoking marijuana. The spiral continued… During the summer after ninth grade I started getting into some harder drugs. That’s when I got into methamphetamines. I had been quite a handful for my parents but it was during my tenth-grade year that I really started to openly rebel. I relentlessly pushed every limit or boundary they set in front of me. As far as my parents were concerned, I was completely untrustworthy. By this time, I had already gotten in trouble with the police a few times and had spent some time in Juvenile Hall and was headed to worse.

My rebellion at home came to a head when something set me off. I had it in my head that I was going to physically fight with my dad. My whole family was there and witness to it. I thought I would get my dad in trouble if he touched me. Long story short, with my instigating, my dad hit me twice. This had never happened before or since in our family. My brother quickly called 911. I grabbed the phone and hung up. Well, when that happens, they are very quick to respond. The police car must have been in our driveway within a minute!

I was all ready to tell the cops how bad my dad was and that he hit me and blah, blah, blah. They saw right through me – the punk kid that really needed a spanking. They put me in the back of the car and took me away. My dad did not press any charges. So they booked me and released me. I walked home. To this day, I’ve still said that my dad should have hit me harder. Although, being a father now, I wouldn’t. I mean you sure don’t want to hurt your own child. However, at the time I walked away with my held high in pride thinking that I could take a hit from my dad and barely be hurt by it. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that my dad held his punches. As a full-grown man, he could have severely hurt me. He lovingly chose not to.

When I got home, my dad met me in the driveway. He told me that I was no longer welcome in his home. I ended up dropping out of high school and living with a friend in his family’s garage. His parents were drunks and didn’t really care about much. I stayed there for about six months or more. During that time I got pretty strung out on drugs. However, I always had a resistance to the extreme hard core versions or methods. But it was during that time that I was exposed to some of the very ugly parts of this world and the effects of drugs in people’s lives. Eventually my friend’s parents asked me to find somewhere else to live. Then I really didn’t know where to go. This became one of the many times I look back and realize that while I had the freewill to mess my life up, the Lord was still leaving me little bread crumb trails to finally lead me to Him for salvation. I left their home with nothing but a backpack. I didn’t know where I was going to go. I started walking.

As I walked past an old friend’s house, I noticed he happened to be home. That was odd because it was the middle of the day on a school day. I stopped and talked with him. Long story short, his mom let me stay with them. She was not strict about keeping us from drinking (although I never drank much anyways). And she just kind of turned a blind eye to using marijuana. However, she would not tolerate anything more than that. I now had a new set of peers to hang out with. I stopped doing the harder drugs and started working on getting back into school. I tried asking my dad if I could move back into his house. He was rightfully resistant to the idea. His home had seen a reprieve from the chaos that I had brought to it. He wanted to know that I was in fact a more respectful person. I got back into school for the second trimester of 11th grade and started doing much better. However, I was still using marijuana quite a bit. I did eventually convince my dad to let me move back in.

At the very end of High School I met Maranda. She would later become my wife. It was the night of prom. After prom, she ended up coming to a party at a house that I all but lived at with a group of friends. She was there to meet my best friend at the time. Soon after that night, they started dating. However, he was not around much and so her and I hung out and got to know each other over the next couple of months. Well long story short, she ended up with me. That was July 4, 1998. That fall circumstances had it that we moved into an apartment together. I proposed to her that Christmas. However, we did not actually marry until August of 2003. To our shame, we lived together unmarried for five years. Interestingly, even before getting saved, when we finally did get married, we immediately sensed the fact that marriage is the appropriate way for a man and woman to enter into such a relationship. We also sensed that it was God who set that order in place.

Going back a little bit, after high school I started working various jobs and eventually ended up in construction. I stayed building in a variety of types of construction for the next ten years or so. All the while I still smoked marijuana and drank a little here and there. I’ve always been a pretty friendly guy who gets along with most people and so that’s how life continued.

During the winter of 2005/6 some close friends had a baby. The mom had been raised with a Lutheran background and therefore she and her family wanted to get the infant baptized. The father was one of those that completely rejected anything that had to with God. It wasn’t that he had and real thought behind that rejection. More that he had no desire to think of himself as subject to anyone or anything. He was a very proud man. That little bit of a debate amongst our close friends sparked conversations amongst several of us about religion. None of us were steadfastly fastened to any one thought. We all had our claims of Christianity or whatever. But none of us let such things directly affect us.

Around that same time my brother got saved. He had only recently moved back into the area after a time serving in the Coast Guard. During the summer of 2006 he was baptized. I went to the lake for the baptism service. This was the first time I had ever really heard the gospel in a way that I actually heard it and it made sense. It was my brother’s pastor at the time who was speaking, Pastor Kevin Lea. Later that year, as fall approached, my brother invited me to church. At the time, I had nothing going on Sunday mornings and my wife was working on those days and we didn’t have any kids yet.

Maranda and I had recently talked a few times about possibly having children, religion and things of significance. We both have similar brushes with Christianity in our upbringing and thought very much the same way about it.

I first went to church on a Sunday morning in late October. I showed up after smoking some marijuana. Now I know that is alarming. But keep in mind, that I smoked this stuff like it was cigarettes. It was a very regular part of my life. In fact, I had stopped smoking cigarettes years earlier and basically replaced them with marijuana. So as was normal for me, I showed up at church after smoking my normal morning bowl. However, I realized for the first time ever, I was not comfortable being stoned at church. I came the next week and didn’t smoke any. I kept coming after that.

After a little over a month, there was an announcement that there was a need for help setting up before church. The church rents a building, so everything is setup and torn down every time they use it. My wife still worked and I still had nothing else going on, so the next Sunday I showed up to help. That was December 17, 2006.

The Assistant Pastor at the time had yet to meet me. He was always busy behind the scenes around the church. Meeting new people was not something that always happened for him. Anyways, I showed up to help. The pastor welcomed the help and also started asking questions as we worked. It was just casual conversation as he was wanting to get to know me. As the conversation continued, he asked two questions in particular that the Holy Spirit used to convict me. The first – “Was I a Christian?” My answer – “Yes”. The second – “When did you get saved?” My answer – “uhh? Somewhere in my early twenties”. Well that was a lie and I knew it. I was not saved “in my early twenties”! In my early twenties… I was stoned! I had always said I was a Christian because of that prayer back in elementary school. Interestingly, the pastor did not continue the conversation. I don’t remember specifically if it was events or circumstances or whatever, but as time went on I got to know him better and I can say that it would not be typical for him to stop at that point. I mean an answer as lame as the one I gave deserves a few more questions. But the Holy Spirit was working some things out that day.

After that little conversation while finishing the set up work, I was convicted that I did not know the Lord, that I was not a Christian and certainly was not going to be with Him after this life! The Holy Spirit gave me the conviction as a liar! I had spent my whole life lying to myself and more importantly to God about my own standing with Him. I had been making a fake god in my mind. I had fashioned a god that was okay with me staying just the way I was – a sinner. At that moment, I realized that I was wrong. Dead wrong! The true and living, almighty, holy and awesome God that is our Creator is not one who is “okay” with our sinful state! I knew I had sinned against God and I knew the He wanted different from me.

I went to the church service that morning and paid little attention to what was said. Afterwards, I sat in my truck in the parking lot and said a little prayer much like the one I had said back in elementary school. It was simply “Jesus, come into my heart”. This time it was different than when I was a kid. This time it was the response of a sinner to the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ! I was acknowledging my sin against God, God’s righteous judgment and therefore my rightful placement in hell, and therefore my need for a savior! That was the moment I was born again as a child of God! That was the moment of humility before our awesome God!

Here, I’d like to note something of incredible importance to anyone who has read thus far. I want you to know that “I believed” in God all those years growing up. I truly believed that He was who He says He is in the Bible. I believed He is our Creator. I believed that Jesus was the one and only begotten Son of God. I believed in the Holy Spirit. I believed Jesus came born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on the cross to pay for our sins, rose from the dead three days later and later was taken up into heaven. I can truly say that I believed every one of those things and would tell people that if they asked me. Here is my point… while I believed all that, I was not saved! I was on my way to hell because I was still in my sin. I had yet to come to God in humility to receive His gift of salvation found only in Jesus the Christ! I believed all those things but I did not understand what the guy dying on the cross 2000 years ago had to do with my sins today. It was realizing and acknowledging my own just fate of hell and separation from God that I brought me to a place of humility before God.

After that prayer in my truck, I lifted my head and while I felt at peace, the heavens did not open up and angels were not singing in the clouds. There was no obvious celebrations or changes at that moment. I started my old pickup truck, put it in reverse and pulled out of the parking spot. I stopped at the store on the way home. I heard someone uses the Lord’s name in vain. That’s when I noticed something very different. It hurt to hear someone use His name that way! I had never been affected like that. That day I went home and destroyed all of my marijuana and paraphernalia. I never smoked marijuana again! I’ve never had even the most remote temptation to do so. Many things about me started changing pretty dramatically.

Of course, my wife was noticing these changes. A little bit later Maranda’s schedule changed and she was able to come to church with me. She was curious after seeing the changes happening in my life. I am incredibly blessed to be able to say that it was not long until she too gave her life to Jesus.

At the time, I had recently started a business as a General Contractor. It is a demanding business that requires a lot of time. When I started the business, I had high hopes of doing well. However, when I got saved it changed everything. My priorities were different. I did not want to spend so much time building a business. I had this new relationship with Jesus that I wanted to cultivate. I decided to quit contracting. For the next two years I lived on what would have been considered side jobs to me in the past. I was not getting rich, but we were still eating. The Lord used that time to teach me that he is capable of meeting our needs.

Those early times and lessons proved to be so important. It would only be two short years until I found myself on staff at the church! It was extremely early in my walk with Jesus and I had so much to learn. But, the circumstances left the church with a practical need and the Lord had placed me in a place to be able to fill it. That assistant pastor that had asked me those questions was going to work with a missionary organization that places pastors in small rural churches. There were several basic logistical and practical holes that would need filling. I had already been helping with several of those things. During the fall off 2008, the assistant pastor asked if I would be willing to help more. I was asked to come on staff as a sort of temporary position filling in some of the needs. It was March of 2009, when the assistant pastor left.

As I started this new job and season of my life, I had no idea what the future would hold. While I may have been born again two years earlier, looking back, there was still so much work to be done in me. There is still so much work to be done in me. In nearly every way I lacked the basic elements of a mature Christian to be able to fill a position, any position, in a ministry. After being basically self-employed for the better part of nearly ten years, it was a huge adjustment just to come in under the direct supervision of another person. Add to that the learning curve of the fact that ministry is a sensitive thing to be involved in no matter what your role is. Often the typical construction guy attitude proves to be less than effective in the ministry. Although, like many events in our lives, I still use many of the skills I learned on a construction site in ministry. Instead of edifying physical products like homes and buildings, I edify people spiritually. How cool is that! After about 9 months on staff at the church, I was placed in the position of youth leader in December of 2009.

Now at nearly 8 years sitting of this desk, my official “title” is still the same. But my responsibilities have grown quite a bit. It seems very clear that the Lord has called me and is preparing me for a lifetime in ministry. But then again, hasn’t he called us all to minister the gospel to this world? Perhaps He has gifted me in one way or another that He has deemed appropriate for occupying the office I now occupy. However, this position He has placed me in is no better or worse than my wife’s calling who has such a demanding ministry of her own in ministering to our children. It is no better or worse than that of any other believer in whatever place they are in to take every opportunity to minister the gospel to his or her peers often at great cost to their own well-being or comfort.

I am reminded of…

Ephesians 4:11-16 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ– 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (NKJV)

Lastly, I will simply note that over the course of my short walk with Lord Jesus He has grown me greatly in so many ways! I have learned plenty enough to know very well that I have so much more to learn! I thank God that He is not through with me yet. I have been through enough various trials to know that they do in fact test us and purify our faith that it may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7)! I no longer think it a strange thing when in fall into a trial of one sort or another (1 Peter 4:12). That is not to say the trial is easy. It’s not! But I do know that my King Jesus works all things for good for those that love Him (Romans 8:28). And, I know that I love Him!