by Greg Williamson (c) 2010
"We are careful not to judge people by what they seem to be, though we once judged Christ in that way.
Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new." -- 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, CEV

Growing Up On False Religion
My parents divorced when I was about ten years old and my mother, having never completed high school, proceeded as best she could to raise my older brother, my younger sister and myself on what she could earn working as a waitress at a corner cafe.

Through the influence of my (older) half-sister, I soon became involved in the Jehovah's Witnesses. Because I was hungry for the acceptance they offered, I threw myself into studying their teachings and never doubted anything I learned. After about five years in the organization, however, I began to seriously question what they were teaching. Jehovah (God) was supposed to be kind and loving, and yet he seemed more like the ruler of a foreign country: powerful but distant and unapproachable. (Eventually I learned that the Witnesses are a cult that literally rewrote the Bible to match their teachings. For more info, please see "Jehovah's Witnesses" under Cults & Other Religions.)

I became severely depressed. Previously a good student, I began skipping classes and eventually dropped out of high school. I tried to commit suicide.

Liquor, Drugs, and the Marine Corps
About that time one of the few non-Witness friends I had told me about his plans to join the Marine Corps and travel around the world. It sounded great, and I decided to give it a shot. Mom gave her permission for me to enlist (at age 17), and I was sent to the USMC Recruit Training Depot, Paris Island, SC for basic training. From Paris Island, I was sent to Meridian, MS for training in my dual job field: Aviation Operations Clerical/Flight Clearance Dispatch (MOS 7041). Meridian is where I also began drinking heavily.

From Meridian, I was sent to work at a reservist training detachment aboard the world's largest naval base in Norfolk, Virginia. Once there, it didn't take long for me to get involved in illegal drugs -- and lots of trouble, including U.A., AWOL, destruction of government property, and fighting. I (barely) made it through two years in Norfolk and then was sent to the New River Air Station in Jacksonville, NC. By then the Corps was getting pretty tired of my antics, and so after a couple more incidents they gave me an official invitation to leave, which came just a few weeks short of the end of my four year enlistment.

Wasteland, Prison, and Jesus
From Jacksonville, I headed back to my hometown of Burlington, NC, got a job, and started living the bachelor lifestyle of parties, parties, and more parties. The next two years became a blur as I went from one living arrangement to another, headed steadily downhill.

Eventually I found myself out of work and evicted from my apartment. That's when I decided to rob a convenience store in order to get enough money to leave town. Using a .25 caliber pistol, I robbed both a convenience store and a video rentals store, netting a total of $250. The police apprehended me at the bus station, and I was eventually given a 17-year prison sentence for two counts of armed-robbery.

Between the coffee, the filterless tobacco, the marijuana, and the stress, after about 16 months in prison I was a nervous wreck. That's when another inmate approached me and told me about Jesus Christ. He gave me a booklet that showed me God's wonderful plan of salvation and what it means to live for Christ. I discovered that God loves all of us and wants to have a personal relationship with each one of us. Wow! I could hardly believe that God really cared about me.

There was one major problem, however: sin. As I learned, all of us are born sinful and thus separated from God. We are imperfect and unholy, while God is absolutely perfect and holy. Furthermore, God's justice demands that sin be punished by death and eternal separation from him. There is absolutely nothing any of us can do to change the situation. It's hopeless. In that respect, the most upstanding citizen is in the same boat with the worst criminal.

But God loves us so much that he made a way-- the one and only way -- for us to be made right with him. Jesus Christ came to earth to pay the price for our sins. That's right: Jesus died in my place! And by turning from my life of sin and placing my faith and trust in Jesus, God would forgive me for all my sins. He would even give me a real and lasting desire to know and serve him.

It all sounded too good to be true. And so naturally I was a little skeptical. In fact, I was a lot skeptical. But God got hold of my heart and would not let go. For two entire days I was absolutely miserable, knowing that I needed to open my life and heart to Jesus but afraid of what I might be giving up (!) And so I told God I would give him one year of my life, after which we would reconvene to renegotiate the contract. And so, as sincerely as I knew how, I asked God to forgive me for my sins and for Jesus to come into my heart and be the Lord of my life.

After that, I started reading the New Testament and was constantly amazed at what I was learning about Jesus. And I found that the more I read and prayed, the more I could see my life changing for the better. I was actually becoming a new person! (Within a few weeks I had completely forgotten about my "contract" with God. That was in October 1987, and I've never looked back since.)

Another Chance
Eventually I was blessed with an inmate position at the Governor's Executive Mansion. After a little more than a year there, my sentence was commuted, and I was paroled to a half-way house for recovering alcoholics. (I had spent nearly five years in prison.) I began looking for a good church to join. Eventually I found one nearby, which is also where I met my future wife. I knew the minute I saw her that I was going to marry Sharon. And it only took me two years to convince her!

Sharon encouraged me to pursue a college degree. And so immediately after we were married I started taking courses part-time and eventually was accepted into a degree program at North Carolina State University. I worked a series of different jobs while taking classes.

Eventually I learned of the B.A. in Biblical Studies program being offered at nearby Southeastern Baptist Theological College, and I transferred in for that. Following graduation, Sharon and I moved back to Raleigh and started a family.

While God has thus far chosen to spare me from full-time ministry, nonetheless I manage to keep very busy with work, my family, Bible study, church, and maintaining my website, A Century 21 Disciple of Jesus. I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the fact that, contrary to what some folk teach, becoming a Christian does not make life a bed of roses. In some ways it actually makes life much more difficult, since it is harder to swim against the tide than to go with the flow. While I still experience problems and difficulties just like everyone else, the difference is that I am no longer alone (God is with me) and I am headed in the right direction (the Bible is my guidebook).

The Real Miracle
My story is really not all that amazing, as there are lots of people who experienced far worse than I did before deciding to follow Jesus. The true miracle is that God loves each one of us as if we were the only one to love, and he has done everything necessary to enter into a real, personal, lasting relationship with us.

Here is what God's inspired, authoritative Word, the Bible, teaches about our need for God and what he has done to meet that need:

  1. Every human being is sinful and thus separated from a pure and holy God. "For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard." (Romans 3:23)
  2. The penalty for sin is death -- that is, eternal separation from God. "For the wages of sin is death ... " (Romans 6:23a)
  3. Jesus Christ died in your place so that your sin could be forgiven and you could be brought into a right relationship with God. "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." (Romans 5:8)
  4. To be forgiven for your sin and brought into a right relationship with God, you must accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved." (Romans 10:9-10)
  5. Having given control of your life to Christ, you must decide to stop living for self and start living for God. "Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.'" (Mark 8:34-35) (all New Living Translation [2nd ed])

My prayer is that you will take a serious look at where you are in life. If you are living without Christ, you are not really living at all. But even more than that, the Bible teaches us that this life is only a stepping stone to eternity, and that anyone who leaves this life without first having been made right with God through personal, saving faith in Jesus Christ will spend all of eternity in painful separation from him (see Revelation 20:10, 12a, 15).

(This photo is from Christmas 2007. L-R: Timothy, Greg, Sharon, and Daniel.)

(This photo of Timothy (L) and Daniel (R) is from February 2010.)