3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:3-7 (NASB)
The above Scripture is so very true of my life before CHRIST JESUS saved me and called me out of darkness into HIS marvelous light. May this testimony of GOD’S saving grace in my life bring honor, praise, and glory to GOD the FATHER, through HIS SON JESUS, by the power of the HOLY SPIRIT.
Since my earliest memories, I had always known and believed that GOD existed. I came from a broken home. My parents divorced when I was very young, which left me confused about many things. The idea of a GOD, who I could call father, probably caused me more anger than happiness. Sometimes I would sit and think about GOD and all of creation. I questioned, “If GOD created everything, then who created GOD?” Not having any family members who truly followed CHRIST made it even worse, as I had no one who could accurately tell me about the things of GOD – who HE was and what it meant to be in a relationship with HIM.
As time went on, I only became more rebellious towards everyone – including GOD and the church. I was the child who sat in a hot car, in the parking lot of the church, rather than go inside. Little did I know GOD’S hand was on me even then. As I continued to grow, my life further grew in despair; I was acting out more and more, even becoming violent. Finally, one day I had enough and I was going to end it all, by taking my life. I took a whole bunch of pills and laid down on the ground thinking I was going to be at peace. Somehow, I knew I was not going to die. I knew GOD had other plans for me. Though I had a bad hangover, per say, I was not dead – just in a bunch of trouble.
I found myself not thinking or talking about GOD any longer – just trying to fit in – however I could. This led me to drinking, drugs, and running with the wrong crowd. The only thing I really liked – and was good at – was soccer. So, in many ways, soccer became my god. Most people couldn’t understand how I could play so well and be involved in a destructive lifestyle. Yet, even this god of mine was soon to only be a source of pain.
One night, after coming home from a soccer game, we stopped by to see my brother at his work – only, he was not there. My mom was angry with him because apparently, he had never shown up for work that day and had not called anyone to let them know he wouldn’t be there. We drove home and as usual, I ran ahead of my mom to get inside. When I reached the door, I saw a note taped to it and even before I read it, something deep within me knew my brother was dead. Sure enough, the note was from the police saying they needed to get in touch with the parents of Ralph Sands. Now, I had to be the one to tell my mom something bad had happened to her son. Later that night at the hospital, I was the last one to see him alive before they disconnected the life support. As traumatic as this was, I think GOD used this event to put me on my journey to HIM.
Soon after the passing of my brother, my mom and I moved closer to her place of employment, which also happened to be right down the road from Bellevue Baptist Church. I’m not sure if it was my mom or me who wanted to go at first, but after a short time I was attending the church by myself. One Sunday, I went forward and made a “Profession of Faith.” I didn’t know what that meant; I really had no idea of what the gospel was or who JESUS was. All I knew was that I wanted all the old stuff in me to be exchanged; I wanted to be new. I was even baptized and still to this day, I remember coming out of the water saying, “I have been raised with CHRIST.” It seemed everything was new. Here I was attending church, reading the Word, being in prayer – even having specific prayers being answered, and witnessing to others about GOD. Now I knew for certain that GOD existed.
Sadly, my story did not get better for me – though, in hindsight, I see it was perfect in GOD’S wisdom and HE knew exactly what was needed in my life. I remember the day I asked GOD to show me, in the Bible, who HE wanted me to be like. When I opened my Bible, the first name I saw was JESUS. I thought to myself, “No way, I don’t want to be like JESUS.” I wanted to be like Peter or Paul or someone else, but not JESUS. So I quickly shut my Bible and suddenly, I knew I had done something wrong. It was from that time forward, though I cried and asked GOD to forgive me, I started to fall away.
Little by little my life continued to grow darker. I was even attending a private Bible College, but my life was increasingly becoming more destructive. In desperation, I joined the military – I just had to get away! Nevertheless, this running only proved, even more concretely, that GOD was not going to leave me alone.
From the time I enlisted, to the time I got out, up until the time GOD saved me – I had many wonderful accomplishments. While in the military, I received awards. When I got out, I had very good jobs and even made a name for myself in many circles. I had a home, a pretty nice car, and even some who I called friends. However, behind that mask of deception, was the drinking, getting high, losing job after job, being married and divorced twice, losing my homes, and much more. So many times when I would get in trouble, I would beg GOD to forgive me and just make things right. If only HE would just help me, I promised I would not do the things I did ever again. Accordingly, many times GOD did help – only I just went back to the way I was before.
Finally the day came – after my second divorce, being in an apartment I knew I could not afford, and drinking very heavily – I had settled on a way I could end my life. Though I had failed before, I was convinced this attempt would work. I had no hope and I really could not take the pain anymore. On the night of my planned suicide, I received a text message. The text was from a girl I had met. (Incidentally, this text would be what GOD used to send me on my way to the place where HE would save me.) One thing led to another and soon she and I were together. I made up a lie about owning a restaurant in St Augustine, Florida and she also wanted out of where she was currently, so we set out to go to Florida. From there began a ten-month journey of things going from bad to worse, living out of a car, being homeless, and working around a cheap hotel, just to pay rent. During those ten months, GOD had many events occur which had me call out to HIM and each and every one of those occurrences, HE answered directly. Even though all those around me could not see HIS hand, I could.
GOD opened a door for us to get a rental home in St. Augustine and almost immediately, I began watching a Christian channel, along with reading the Bible that my mom had given me (one of only two books that I brought out of Minnesota). One night, it was as though GOD opened my mind to understand that I was HIS and HE was about to do something in my life. That same evening, I was watching a preacher teaching the Word and proclaiming the gospel. My girlfriend said, “What is this? Turn it off – it’s giving me a headache!” But I had to hear more…I had to hear more.
Within two weeks my girlfriend left me and I was all alone. Each day, I was reading GOD’S Word and it was cutting me to the core. The preacher’s sermons on TV were also cutting me, but I had to hear more. Then the night came – O that blessed night! I say it was October 16th (in memory of my brother’s death), but I’m unsure of the exact date. I was listening to the preacher proclaiming the gospel. I can’t remember what he was preaching, but I very quickly came to the realization that my sin was against Holy GOD. I realized that I deserved HIS wrath, but I also understood JESUS had paid it all on the cross! I finally comprehended the gospel! I finally knew! GOD opened my heart and I began to cry out for forgiveness and mercy in JESUS! GOD granted me repentance that night. All night long, I cried out in tears and HE heard my cry and revealed HIS precious SON JESUS to me! Indeed, Titus 3:3-7 is a fitting Scripture. GOD saved me not because I was anything special or important, but because HE loved me and in the perfect time, HE washed me and gave me a new heart. I was a new creation in CHRIST JESUS “my” LORD and SAVIOR! I now was free from the guilt and condemnation of sin and had life eternal in my LORD JESUS! I was HIS! GOD redeemed me from the hand of the adversary and I was whiter than snow! Bless the LORD! Bless the LORD’S JESUS holy name!
That next morning everything was different – it is so hard to express the joy and happiness the HOLY SPIRIT had put in my heart. Though there were so many situations which remained because of my past, yet all I could do now was: rejoice! The LORD was leading me in HIS Word and in prayer. Just like a little child, I began to talk to GOD as my FATHER. I very quickly came to the realization that the GOD, whom I was privileged to address as FATHER, was a Holy GOD. To say I was in awe of HIM and the fear it brought was an understatement. However, the fear was always accompanied by the knowledge of acceptance, because of JESUS. Soon, the LORD led me to a church to worship and learn. I had a new job and even the relationships I had walked away from, GOD began to heal. Time and time again, I saw my sweet LORD remove dross after dross out of my life and I was grateful.
As time went on, I was very happy and content serving the men at the men’s prayer breakfast, at my local church. I had no intentions of doing anything else. I was good at food and beverage, so I thought that was how I would serve the LORD and the church. I was about to find out that what I thought was the right plan was not necessarily what GOD had planned. One day the pastor came to me and asked me to be on the “Mission Development Council.” I didn’t know anything about it, but I thought if he needed me to serve, then I would. Suddenly, I was also asked to go on a short term mission trip to another state and so I went. After that, I was offered to go to Northern Ireland for another short term mission trip. I knew I could not afford it, but if it was from the LORD it would be. To the praise of HIS glory, that is exactly what happened. One day, I was at my work and mentioned the opportunity to go on to Northern Ireland and within five minutes everything was provided – including my passport. Thus, I found myself on a clear and warm day, coming out of the Belfast, Northern Ireland’s airport, along with the rest of the team. It was there that I knew the LORD was calling me to missions and evangelism. The LORD confirmed in HIS Word, in prayer, and in what happened on the ground that this was HIS gifting and calling on me. There was one verse I had remembered from back in my youth, when I was attending Bellevue Baptist Church, that resounded in my mind and heart:
7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak.”
Jer 1:7 (NASB)
From that time forward, the LORD repeatedly called, sent, and used me to proclaim HIS excellencies. My life was not mine but HIS. It was HIS will – not mine – and though many times HE led me into difficult and uncertain seasons/circumstances, HE has always held me in HIS hand. I knew from HIS Word, HE was going to finish the good work HE began…HE is faithful! As time went on, the LORD put in my heart to start a mission’s ministry. After much prayer and consultation, the LORD granted and entrusted United in CHRIST JESUS to my stewardship. By GOD’S grace, HE has had me stand firm and faithful to HIS calling and what HE has entrusted. The LORD, for HIS glory, has sent me many places – especially my own neighborhood – to proclaim HIS glorious gospel. For forty years of my life, I did not live for the LORD JESUS. Now, may the LORD be pleased to use and pour me out each and every day, until HE returns or calls me home.
It would not be right for me to fail to mention another (and what I consider the best blessing the LORD has given me outside of my salvation) – my wife Holly. After the LORD saved me, I had asked HIM for a godly wife. I knew I had been divorced twice before and I had simply asked the LORD to either keep me patient and wait upon HIM or remove the desire for a wife. The LORD kept me faithful in prayer. In November/December 2012, while I was in Norway, I met Holly through a social media. I fell in love with her, not just because she was beautiful (Oh, is she beautiful!) but because of the love and devotion she had for CHRIST JESUS in her heart. We spent much time in the Word and prayer together and after meeting and seeking godly counsel, we went ahead with marriage. Now, I have a godly wife granted/entrusted to me for our journey home. We labor together, side by side, on what she calls, “the bleeding edge of the gospel.” We serve the LORD of Lords and KING of Kings together. Our hearts are burdened to be in Northern Ireland – serving the Body, making disciples, and LORD willing, planting churches. We continue to rejoice in the LORD and HIS unfailing love, serving where HE has us until that day HE sends us overseas. The ministry HE has entrusted us, by HIS grace, is growing and bearing fruit for the Kingdom. My wife and I feel blessed as the LORD has graciously added several other members to UCJ, who themselves are burdened for the LORD’s glory and lost souls. For four years, the LORD had me by myself laboring and being patient in prayer with thanksgiving. Now each day I awaken, one day closer to being home with the LORD, I am granted to enjoy and share the journey with my beautiful bride.
Praise the LORD for HIS unfailing love! Why HE set me apart and set HIS affection on me I do not understand. Nevertheless, I am humbled and grateful HE has and because of HIS love, I live now and forever, one day soon, to be in HIS presence enjoying HIM forever. Come, LORD JESUS – Come.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16 (NASB)
Shane Sands is the founder and president of United in CHRIST JESUS.
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