This is the print version of my testimony. The audio version is here.
A Wretch Like Me
1 Tim 1:12-17
(August 13, 2010)
I’m happy to report that I’m in my 20th year as a born again Christian, and today, I want to tell you how that happened. I’m going to give you my testimony. The last time I shared this was 7 years ago, and it is said that every 7 years we get a new body, and that’s sometimes true with a church body.
So if you’ve joined the Hope Chapel family in the last several years, I want to encourage you with what God can do in a life. I want to paint a picture of how the Lord Jesus Christ poured out his love and mercy and forgiveness on me, the sinner.
As you listen, my hope is that you will reflect on what Christ has done in you, and that you will be zealous to share the transforming good news with everyone who needs to hear it.
Every born again Christian should have a testimony prepared. Every born again Christian has a story to tell about how their lives have changed since believing in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
The term “Born Again” was popularized by Watergate co-conspirator and lead henchman of the Nixon Whitehouse, Chuck Colson, who wrote a best seller of the same name about his conversion to Christianity in the ‘70s, when he was thrown in jail for his crimes.
But the term “Born Again” has, of course, an earlier history. Jesus spoke it first in the best-selling book of all time, the Bible, in John 3:3– “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
To be born again simply means that you have acknowledged to God that you have sinned against him by breaking his moral law, the 10 Commandments. You deserve Hell. But when you repent of that sin, and put your trust in Jesus Christ, your sin is forgiven. Now you live for him. That’s being born again.
As you live for him, directed by his words in the Bible, your life will change.
John Newton was a despicable slave trader who met Jesus, changed, then wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace”.
C.S. Lewis, the famous author who wrote “Mere Christianity,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and many other Christian works, was a skeptic, who said he was looking for Christ like a rat chases a cat.
Probably the most famous of all testimonies was the Apostle Paul’s; here it is:
1 Tim 1:12-14– I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
It’s interesting that this man, who wrote a good portion of the New Testament, describes himself as “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man…” in his testimony.
A blasphemer is one who slanders God and speaks evil of Him. How was the Apostle Paul a blasphemer?
In the early days of Paul’s life he was known as Saul, a young Jewish leader who was very zealous for the cause of Judaism.
Saul did everything in his power to protect his religion. He thought Jesus was a phony, Christianity a lie, and any Jew who believed Jesus to be the Messiah was to be killed.
So in his opposition to this new movement called Christianity, he probably cursed the name of Jesus. In his testimony in Acts 26:11, Saul tried to force Christians to blaspheme.
Since Jesus was God, he realized he was the one who was the blasphemer.
Paul also states in that he was a persecutor and a violent man.
He was at the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, giving approval of his death. (Acts 8:1)
Acts 8:3 says, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”
In his own words he said,” I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death…” (Acts 22:4)
Then one day on his way to the city of Damascus to arrest Christians, a light from Heaven flashed around him and Saul heard a voice say to him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:4-6)
Saul was blind for 3 days until a Christian brother laid hands on him and prayed for him. Then something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again.
Saul got up, was baptized, and ended up being God’s chosen instrument to carry the name of Jesus Christ to the gentiles.
The name Saul means “asked (of God)” and, after he was “born again,” it was changed to Paul, meaning “little”.
This is why Paul wrote in 1 Tim 1:14, “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”.
The grace of the Lord was poured out on me, too, and I’m thankful for that, because I never cared for Jesus or that Christian religion with all it’s hypocrites in church. I was a good person, and I liked my relationship with God just fine, thank you very much, because it was on my terms.
I lived my life my way, and did what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it.
I was raised by good parents, but was taught that God could be a beer can; that was the extent of my religious upbringing.
I didn’t really rebel until I got booted out of the house at age 19,
found a little one bedroom in Torrance, discovered sex, drugs, rock n’ roll—and Gardena poker clubs. This was around the late ‘70s.
I had a good job at Von’s grocery store, working as a frozen food manager. I remember a co-worker named Glenn, a real bible-thumper, who told me that I needed Jesus or I’d go to Hell.
I laughed him off.
My manager Eddie also warned me that I needed to be a Christian. I ignored him too. I was way too smart for Jesus.
*Proverbs 26:12—Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
I wanted to be a radio announcer and enrolled in the KISS broadcasting workshop. I really loved it until I discovered that my 1st job would probably be in Horsebreath, Montana, paying 5 bucks an hour.
So I transitioned into radio commercials, got an agent, tried out for TV, acted in college and community theater plays, and made a couple of skeleton-in-the closet movies, and changed my name. My business card said: Steve Sage: “He’ll grow on you.”
I never got anywhere. I continued working at Von’s midnight to 8am, went to bars, smoked pot, had girl friends, auditioned for commercials, played poker in card clubs and went to work.
I had absolutely no goals, just a vague idea that somehow it would all work out and maybe I’d hit it big with a national commercial or
I took solace from a psychic I hired who read my palm and predicted good things for STEVE SAGE!
There was a problem though: I’d get really paranoid about life whenever I smoked weed. Where I was going? What was I doing? Aw, who cares?
Proverbs 22:5—“In the paths of the wicked lies thorns and snares…”
Then one day a neighbor turned me on to crystal meth. Speed!
I remember getting a lot of things accomplished that day: banking, cleaning, laundry, bill paying… It made life easy, giving me a confidence I never knew I had.
I’d only use it occasionally as a “recreational drug;” besides, it helped keep me awake on the graveyard shift at the store. No problem. My life was in control—except for those little pockets of terror:
Like the time in Hussong’s Cantina in Mexico when I danced on the table making fun of the federales until they grabbed me, took me into a little green room and asked: “Que pasa, hombre?”
Or another trip, when with drugs concealed, we crossed the border about 2 am and got hassled again by the federales. We were told to follow them into an out-of-the-way, dark, vacant lot… “Que pasa, hombre?”
(Or when I kicked out my live-in drug addict girl friend and she stabbed my front door 17 times.)
(Alternate: Or when a card player in a Bell Gardens Casino asked me if I carried life insurance.)
These were just little pockets of terror, nothing too big. It was all an adventure though, and fun, too!
A lot of people talk about the miserable pain and wretchedness of their pre-Christian lives like it was a total, ugly, gross, sorrowful thing, but I had a good time.
I was lost and loving it! This was life! I didn’t worry about what God thought, because I had created him in my own image. There certainly wasn’t a Satan. No right or wrong. If it felt good, I did it. I didn’t hurt anyone… I was a good person.
Prov. 14:12: there is a way that seems right to a man,
but in the end it leads to death.
Then I turned 30. At this time of my life I was ready to make a change. I hooked up with a guy who sold car stereos out of the back of his car and became his apprentice.
I learned the job… and I was good.
I actually set 2 goals for myself, ambitious ones. They were:
- To live life on the edge.
- To find out the dark side of life.
Proverbs 21:16–A man who strays from the path of understanding, comes to rest in the company of the dead.
At this point, I was doing crystal meth quite frequently and was pretty successful at selling car stereo equipment out of the back of my black Z28 Camero.
I quit my safe, secure job of 13 years, with medical and dental benefits, and became an itinerant car stereo salesman.
My name changed again. My business card now read: “Stereo Steve—Wholesale Car Stereo Equipment.”
I would literally stop people in the street and shout: “Hey, hey! Come here, come here, come here! Need any wholesale car stereo equipment?”
“Amps, speakers, stereos, seperates, woofers, tweeters. Not hot, new in the box! Take a look, take a look!” And they would come and look!
I only had the courage to do this though, when I was on speed. I spoke fast with no conscience and I was always on the look out for mullets.
Mullets are any group of edible fishes, but for a guy like me, mullets were young kids with fat wallets. Or construction workers on payday.
Or any male in a car that played a thumping rap beat at 200 decibels. I would chase them down in my car and give them a sales pitch – or accost them as they walked on the sidewalk.
There was too much competition in L.A. so I headed off to a distant country, up North: Palmdale and Lancaster. It was a goldmine. They’d never seen a guy like me and it was like shooting fish in a barrel.
I only worked 2 days a week. I’d buy my product from wholesale outlets on Friday, sell stereos in the desert until 10pm, then all day Saturday. I’d party in the bars until 2 am, stay in a motel and tweak out until morning.
I made all the money I needed. It was the good life all over again!
Or so I thought….
My lifestyle changed drastically. Because of my speed addiction, I’d stay up 2-3 days at a time. To come down, I’d polish off a fifth of 151 Bacardi with diet coke while taking sleep aids.
I’d sleep all week, watch videos, eat Breyers chocolate ice cream, drink 151 and diet coke, take Unisom and do this till Friday. Every week.
This was during the construction boom in the high-desert in the late 80’s and everyone had money.
I found a liquor store that cashed checks so I parked right out in front and grabbed those construction workers as they came out with their cash and 6-packs.
My goal was to separate them from their bucks before mama budgeted for the babies.
I’d sell $6.00 speakers for 30, 40, 50 bucks, whatever they had. If they opened their wallets in front of me – up went the price.
I offered warranties to my customers, but never—ever—returned their money.
One guy wanted his money back immediately after I sold him a system; he had buyer’s remorse, but I refused his refund.
He insisted, so I told him a lie that the company I worked for didn’t allow me to return merchandise on the same day. Then BAM! Something happened.
I looked in my rear view mirror, (I had been arguing from the driver’s seat), and I had a bloody fat lip and a steering wheel imprint on my face.
I asked the guy: “Did you do this?” He walked away quickly. I drove around the parking lot in a daze and found a doctor to put stitches in my lip.
I wrote the doctor a check that bounced. I was back to selling stereos within the hour.
If people did return equipment – I’d rehash and double my cash. I’d take their old stereos or speakers and sell them something else – at twice the price!
I could sell anything and I did. I had novelty items too. I sold really cool watch lighters for 10 bucks. You could tell time and light your cigarette too!
I was demonstrating the last one I had when unknown to me, it cracked and lighter fluid went all over my hand. (Explain rest).
I’d cruise car washes, back alleys, parking lots, neighborhoods. I’d set up at 7-11’s. Kids would drive by and shout: “Hey, Stereo Steve!”
The cops rarely hassled me. I had receipts, a wholesale license and permits. I kept my crystal meth in a hollowed out Chap Stick, my life line!
Up 3 days – sleep 4. Up 4 days – sleep 3. Up 3 days – down 4.
I had no contact w/my parents. They didn’t even want to know what their son was doing. I had no friends, even my best friend and his wife started avoiding me.
One girlfriend put out her cigarette on my hand in anger.
My bills were late. Rent was late. Credit cards charged up due to gambling debt and other foolish choices.
Proverbs 17:16– Of what use is money in the hand of a fool,
since he has no desire to get wisdom?
I had no real relationships. I was desperately lonely, in debt and thought about ending it all! I took a handful of pills one night, laid down, and couldn’t fall asleep; I was too terrified I was going to die.
But I was achieving my goals: living on the edge. And I was starting to understand the dark side of life.
One of my customers got ready for work as I visited him. He was putting on thick black boots and camouflage.
I asked: “What do you do.” He replied, “I rob houses.”
Things got a little more crazy. One guy I hired for the day found my cash and stole it from me.
I got even. I broke into his mobile home in broad daylight, even greeting his neighbors. I climbed in through a side window and took some things as payback and left a little note for him.
It’s kinda strange. This was the demarcation point in my mind. I now knew that I was no longer a good person. I had crossed over.
Whatever delusions I had about being a nice guy ended with that act.
Palmdale was getting crowded with other stereo guys like me so I went east – across the desert to Victorville; I set-up shop in a swap-meet and had a van now.
I was even more successful. I put 2 other guys out of business with my aggressive, loud, rude and obnoxious sales patter.
I stole a huge metal “For Sale” sign from a property in the desert and hung it in front of my swap meet shop.
Whenever I made a sale, I gave the person a hammer to hit the sign. Baaaannnggg!
I put a coffee can full of nails in front with a sign that said: Guess how many nails are in the can and win a free sound system.
No one ever won because I never counted how many nails were actually in the coffee can.
I started hanging out with addicts, thieves, ex-cons and prostitutes I met at a shady little card club called the Hi-Desert Casino in a shadowy burg called Adelanto.
One evening I waited too long to pack up my product at the Swap Meet and it got really dark. Fortunately, a couple who sold survival gear at the swap meet, trained the headlights of their car on me so I could see long enough to pack everything up. Then they gave me a “Gospel of John”.
When I’d drive at night, I’d hallucinate and see bushes jump out on the road. I got really paranoid, feeling I would soon get beat-up or killed.
Prov 22:13–The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!”
or, “I will be murdered in the streets!”
I trusted no one.
All the months of sleeplessness, the long nights and days on speed and drinking151 were messin’ with my mind. Yet I got bolder… and stupider!
A guy didn’t deliver on some drugs I tried to score so I pestered him and pestered him until I was invited out to his house in the boondocks.
How many people know that it’s not a good idea to pester drug-dealers out in the desert boondocks?
I drove up with my van full of stereo equipment and was invited into the house. He told me to sit down and wait.
I waited for about 45 minutes on his couch listening to his stereo when a girl came out to dance in front of me. She suddenly turned the volume up for about 10 seconds. How curious?
A man announced that was my “stuff” was ready. I got up, went to the front door and noticed that the front window of my van was smashed. The dealer had a club in his hands.
He demanded a stereo, and to emphasize his point, his girlfriend handed him a shot gun. (Tell the rest of the story)
I was driving home from Victorville at midnight a little later on, and I had a notion to pull over into a field in Riverside and look for witches’ covens. I got out of my car and searched through the vast , empty field.
Finding nothing, I decided to challenge Satan. “C’mon Satan, show yourself to me. C’mon!” And the next week, he did.
I had gotten it into my head that the Victorville swap meet was really a cover for drug dealing, so I determined to find out the next day what was really happening.
That night in my motel room I was overwhelmed with a sense of dread. If I did what I was going to do—find out about the drug dealing—I’d be killed.
Weird thoughts, evil musings, and paranoid voices in my head said, “Don’t do it. You’re going to get it. You’re done. It’s over.”
I panicked. I was up all night alone with these strange warnings and I was sure I was being watched.
I was thumbing through a book called “On a Pale Horse” and it was communicating threats of evil and fear to me.
I freaked out and opened the dresser drawer next to me and pulled out a…Gideon’s Bible.
Randomly, I opened it to Jeremiah 17:5-8 and read it:
This is what the LORD says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.
6 He will be like a bush in the wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
7 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
8 He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
I mustered up my courage the next morning and went to the swap meet determined to find out if this was a cover for drug dealing—or was I just paranoid?
I moved to a different area from where I was used to selling. The place went into an uproar—or was I just imagining it?
No one came into my stall the whole day except for a couple of guys who came over to offer a proposition:
“If you want to make real money, come join us.”
What did they mean?
I panicked again and started packing up my stuff at noontime. But there was no way I could get out the swap meet; it was packed with people.
An older man sold stuff across from my stall. He noticed my paranoid state, looked strait at me and shook his head as if to say, “Bad boy… you fool.”
There was weird Christmas music playing over the speakers. Almost mocking. Cynical.
Three men walked in front of my booth and made chicken noises. Why? What was happening?
It was getting late and swap meet was shutting down. I packed everything up and thought to myself, All they can do is kill me.
I drove down the 15 freeway with the Gideon’s Bible between my knees and recited the Lord’s Prayer, continuing to say, All they can do is kill me.
The whole next week, I didn’t get out of bed; I had a decision to make. Go back to Victorville and join them (whatever that meant), or find a new location. But I knew what I really had to do: give up my meth habit.
Friday morning came around; I still didn’t know what to do. Hour by hour the time passed. It was getting too late to buy my stereos in L.A., too late to drive to Victorville. I took my speed…my drugs, my life… and flushed…half of them down the toilet. One last binge.
That week-end was a spiritual battle, for my life – for my soul. I sensed that there might be a God but who was He, what did he want?
I didn’t know that through these two years of living on the edge my best friends were praying for me.
What did God want, where was He? Who is He?
I stayed up for 3 days. I knocked on doors in apartment complexes looking for a wife.
My best friend took me on a drive in P.V. where I saw a vision of Heaven & Hell.
I found a set of keys and looked for the right door where they belonged.
In my bedroom I picked up the telephone to call a friend while my roommate had a football game on in the living room.
I picked it up and the T.V. said “Good call.”
I hung up. The T.V. announced: “He dropped the ball.”
I dialed again. “He picks up the fumble!”
I hung up. “Ooohhh, too bad!”
What did it all mean? I collapsed on the floor and said “God, I give up. If you want to take my business away, go ahead.”
The next day, my van was towed away and all my stereo equipment was stolen.
That night as I drifted off to sleep, the radio played “Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall – all you have to do is call, and I’ll be there, yeah yeah yeah…. You’ve got a friend!
During all this confusion, paranoia and terror on that week-end, I didn’t understand that Satan was battling for my life, for my very soul.
But God was waiting. Waiting. Very patiently, waiting.
In the parable of the prodigal son it says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. (Luke. 15: 20b)
On December 2, 1990, I gave in, bowed down, and looked up.
Isaiah 17:5-8– “I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”
I still didn’t know that Jesus was God until I went to Free to Choose, our ministry for compulsive behavior.
There I confessed him as my Lord and Savior after hearing a gospel message from the pastor, Rick Fasullo.
I was so excited that two weeks later Pastor Zac made an alter call, I ran up to this stage and repented again.
The Bible says in 2 Cor 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
All my sins were washed away and now God declared me righteous because of my belief in His Son Jesus, and his death on my behalf on the cross.
But old habits die hard. And God wanted to show me a new way of life and a new way to live. He did this through the community of Hope Chapel.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Through the teaching at Hope Chapel, and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and through prayer, I learned how to die to myself.
The 1st year of my Christian faith was the most difficult. But God had to train me and teach me His ways.
The first thing I thought God wanted for me was a girlfriend. Tell story. Married, anger, forgiveness. (Was shown through the word and community that what I was doing was wrong Biblically.)
Cigarettes. (Through the comm. of the singles ministry)
Pornography. (Through the ministry of minichurch)
New Job. – Back at Von’s. (Through the comm.. of prayer.)
Repay my debts and tithe. (Financial counseling)
Marriage. (Meeting my wife through the comm.. of Singles Ministry)
Gave up alcohol on last day of honeymoon 14 yrs ago.
But my testimony isn’t just what happened 20 years ago, it also includes what happened 5 years ago when I heard a teaching called “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” that caused me to have a great desire to reach the lost.
When I heard that teaching, I felt as if I was born again, again.
And I’ve made it my personal goal to share my faith everyday, because I never know when I will speak to someone who is a wretch like me.
God continues to work miracles in my life as I see hundreds of people get trained to speak simply, biblically and effectively through our evangelism classes.
The way the nation is going today, we need a Great Awakening of the masses who have turned their backs on God. I’m happy that God has given me this burden for the lost.
Jesus said, in Luke 9:23 – “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
I know a little of what that means so far and it’s hard. The Christian walk is difficult, but in obedience to God’s commands, there is blessing.
You will be changed if you devote yourself to Jesus Christ through the community of Hope Chapel.
Charles Spurgeon: “We are not what we ought to be, we are not what we want to be, we are not what we shall be, but we are something very different from what we used to be!
In 1 Timothy 1:15 – 16, Paul continues his testimony about God’s grace. He writes, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
When I think back over my life, before God saved me, all the people I hurt, ripped off, used and abused…the utter callousness and selfishness of my life, I’m thankful that He had mercy on me, the sinner.
When I see how Jesus Christ lifted me out of the miry pit and set my feet upon a rock, I too, can say with Paul, at the end of his short testimony in 1 Timothy 1:17: Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.….”