We Left Our First Love
In 2008 I was gloriously set free through faith in the Cross of Christ. When a preacher declared Romans 8:8 from a Live service on the Internet, "...they that are in the flesh cannot please God," the Holy Spirit came down and I saw my entire Christian life flash before my eyes: my prayer life, my Bible reading, my witnessing. I fell to the floor in our den weeping. I could finally 'see' what the ministers in our little church and my own husband had been trying to tell me for several months, that my faith had been in my own works, my own spiritual disciplines, not in Christ's Work at Calvary. The next morning my heart was singing, "I'm saved by the Blood of the Crucified One, Ransomed from sin and a new work begun..." Words cannot accurately express the joy and peace that flooded my soul.
At first our little congregation began to grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The power of the Holy Spirit fell mightily in many of the subsequent services. People were hungry and coming to the Lord. Bondages of sin were being broken. However, the enemy crept in unawares on the back of partial truth catch phrases like, "God is not concerned about your behavior, only your faith," "you don't need fellowship, you only need the Cross of Christ," and "all you gotta do is sit on your couch and believe!" We began to mock and criticize every one who called themselves a Christian, because they did not know this 'Message of the Cross.'
Within two years, my family and I began to erroneously claim that we understood & obeyed the Message of the Cross better than Jimmy Swaggart Ministries. We were boldly standing up against false doctrine in the face of seasoned pastors, teachers, even family and friends. In fact, we became arrogant in our 'narrow way,' sincerely believing that this Message could not include any law, whether it be a moral code or Biblical 'righteous' living. We quit watching, listening, and even supporting JSM, all the while becoming more proud, firmly believing that we were the only congregation that truly understood that Christ came to give us a complete rest, meaning all we had to do was just 'sit on our couch and believe.'
A downward spiral began that we did not see. There began to surface an unrest in my own soul that I could not shake or understand. Yet, all the while, I felt a continual burden in my heart for lost souls. This erroneous teaching of just 'sitting on our couch & believing,' caused me to be fearful to intercede in prayer for the lost or even study the scriptures, lest I become a Pharisee again and lose my soul. We had made a law that we could NOT do anything spiritual!! It wasn't a blatant command, but a strong deception that if I followed any Bible reading plan, or daily prayer time, or even shared a testimony of the Grace of God working in my life, I was focusing on my works, trusting in my flesh. And, didn't Paul say that was what would cause Christ to be of no effect in our lives, which had to mean we would be sent to eternal Hell, right?
What is the inevitable outcome of this kind of teaching? I had to occupy my mind with other things, so I wouldn't 'over-think' my faith. Because of the Word of God planted in my heart at an early age, I knew worldly pleasures did not satisfy and would lead to destruction. So my mind was a little war zone. I wanted to sing praise songs. I wanted to talk to my Savior about personal cares and troubles, but all He really cared about, I was being told, was saving my soul.p I felt I had to absolutely stay in a 'neutral' position to truly believe. And, if you've ever been on a hill driving a car with a stick shift and have to stop at a stop light, you know the dire situation I'm talking about. If you lose that perfect balance with the clutch and accelerator, you will inevitably roll backwards, fast!! Talk about trusting in one's flesh!! I felt I was going insane! I knew that enjoying the world or mere earthly things was not my answer, plus I did not want to do those things, but how was I to behave? What was I to think? Where was I to turn? I kept finding myself frantically repeating the same prayer over and over: "Lord, please save my miserable and wretched soul!" Then, I would remember Jesus' words: "but when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do" (Mt 6:7). Yet that's what I found myself doing!
Having grown up in a legalistic church, consumed with a fear of displeasing Almighty God, I had not fallen prey to drug addiction, sexual vices, or alcoholism. However, there was a boat load of other sins in my life holding me in bondage, even though I thought I was trusting fully in Christ Crucified. You know you have an addiction when you crave that thing all the time, and when something or someone gets in your way of fulfilling that desire, the frustration, anger, and even the 'fangs' start coming to the surface. I was desperate, lonely, and fearful, like a drowning victim in the ocean with just a symbol of the Cross in my mind. That personal relationship & communion I used to have with my Lord as a Spirit-filled college student was completely gone.
Was it possible that this 'sit on your couch' doctrine had been a deceptive ploy of the enemy all along? Was it the 'roaring Lion seeking whom he may devour' the one who cleverly kept us from reading our Bibles and set us apart from other believers to destroy us, like a predator who preys on the lonely, wounded animal outside the pack? My parents had taught me that the Bible was the infallible Word of God and I am so grateful to them for planting His Word in my heart from a young age. One of my favorite passages was Psalm 18:2-3, "The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies."
So, in that deepest recess of my heart, I began to seek the Lord to show me if we had erred. If He could save and deliver Paul, a Pharisee of Pharisees, all the while using him to minister in a powerful way to the church, I hoped He could keep me in the faith, change me into His image, and give me freedom to serve Him in ministry.
One beautiful day, He showed up! The Holy Spirit gave me the words from Revelation 2:1-7, originally written to the church in Ephesus. I knew that I knew it was exactly what we needed to hear: We had left our First Love. That whole passage perfectly described us. Repentance is a tough, humbling, yet beautiful thing. "...Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble....Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour..." (I Peter 5:5,8)
This past year has been rough as my husband and I began to humble ourselves again to the Truth, asking forgiveness of those we attacked and arrogantly opposed. He really does deliver from sin! And, He truly cares for me in every area of my life. I Peter 5:7 "Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you." Praise God!! I now have His Peace again AND His Glorious Victory over that particular sin that had so easily beset me. He will not leave us as we are!! He still loves me and works powerfully and continually in my life to clean out ALL sin and unrighteousness.
What a Wonderful Service!
Dear Pastor Jon and Debra-
Wow! What a wonderful service on Sunday! The testimony and preaching from Gary really ministered to us. I don’t think there was a dry eye in church. The sweet Holy Spirit was moving and it was so good. We feel when we leave after service – we leave with meat, with substance.
We are Thankful that your church was referred to us. We Praise God that you are teaching the Truth, Jesus and the Cross. Wednesday night was also a blessing with Nettie doing a study on walking in Faith. We brought a friend, Rose M. with us and she really was glad that she came. She said that the message really ministered to her from Nettie. We are truly Thankful to see a church that is in order and that is preaching and teaching the Truth.
Brian and Sherry H.
Dear Pastor Jon & Debra Wenger & Heritage Christian Center,
Greetings From Pastor Jeff & Liz Steiner from Promised Land Church in Watertown, Wisconsin! We here want to extend a great “Thank You” for Pastor Jon & Debra’s ministry here at the “I will Glory in the Cross” Revival meetings held at PLC June 6th – 10th.
Pastor Jon’s messages on the Cross of Christ helped “reinforce” the Word of God that we have ministered here for the last several years. Your Pastor has a deep knowledge of the Cross of Christ and the Gospel bears fruit where ever it is preached under the anointing of the Holy Spirit as it has here. Our people were greatly built up and edified by Pastor Jon’s ministry. As for Pastor Debra, her morning sessions were powerful testimonies as to how the Lord Jesus Christ sought her out and saved her soul. She was a great inspiration to us here and we have many requests for the tapes from all the meetings.
We want to encourage you at Heritage Christian Center to stand with Pastor and Debra. True ministers of the Gospel are getting very hard to find. They have a true shepherds heart and you will see the Lord do great things in your Church as you all seek Gods face and hold to the Cross.
And to Pastor Jon and Debra, we greatly enjoyed getting to know you and the wonderful fellowship we had with each other. I believe we began a friendship that will be a blessing through out our years. We hope to come down to visit you when Brother Loren Larson is there and look forward to meeting your church family. Until then, Keep the Faith and advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ as he enables you to do so!
God Bless you all richly! Pastor Jeff & Liz Steiner and PLC
Water in the Desert
If someone were to ask me to describe what my church means to me, I would have to say that it is like finding cool, pure water in a desert wasteland or like finding fresh air despite being surrounded by a rotten garbage heap. Sound extreme? Not at all. How else can you describe the experience of entering church and feeling like your very soul is taking a deep breath of satisfaction and relief because – you know that you know that you know – that you are going to hear the untainted Word of God after being inundated by the World all week? Or after having a past that includes attending churches that preached the wrong message?
There is no room in our church for man’s wisdom or work because Christ and His Finished Work on the Cross takes center stage in all that is preached and taught. You will not hear the 7 Steps to Victory or the 40 Days of Purpose coming from our pastor’s mouth because in Christ we already have Victory; in Christ we already have Purpose.
I’m not sure how many are gifted with the ability to expound the Word of God in such great detail, but the Lord has certainly bestowed this gift on our pastor. I don’t think any of our congregation takes this for granted, especially knowing that there is a whole church world out there that’s more interested in the temporal social gospel instead of the Eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.
If you are looking for a church that leads you to Christ and Him alone, please consider Heritage Christian Center . In-depth Bible studies take place some Sunday nights while other Sunday nights are sermons. Most times we are blessed with both, but regardless, it always goes entirely too fast.
– Tricia A.
Pastor Jon & Debra:
This is just a note from Marla and I letting you know how very much we appreciate the both of you and your unwavering stance for the Message of the Cross. We don’t have to tell you this is not a popular message. People are not flocking in large numbers to hear it. It’s no different here in Baton Rouge than it is in Central Illinois. Marla and I often wondered how you could stand up in front of us (so few in number) week after week and preach with such passion. When people here in Baton Rouge ask where we’re from, we proudly tell them we’re from Heritage Christian Center in Peoria IL and that you are our pastors.
I believe what we were able to learn from you under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit has given us a solid foundation to begin our studies here at WEBC. We love you both and lift you up in our daily prayers.
Terry & Marla
Listened to Gabe Swaggart’s program before church (Living Waters). The first song was “I am” by Grace Larson, and the Spirit of God moved during her singing. It was a confirmation to my troubled spirit that no matter what is going on in your life, “I am with you”! Isn’t God good?
Then at church today, the singers started singing “Draw Me Lord,” as the Lord was moving during prayer time at the alter! As the song came to a close, there was a Word of tongues given, and then the interpretation of tongues. As I listened, the Lord took me back to 1992 in New Lenox, IL; as we were raising three daughters in our newly built home. Right next to the grade school where all three girls went, and where we thought we were going to live the rest of our lives… Wrong! God had a different plan!
We moved to Ottawa, IL; so we could build a new house in Marseilles. Donna called churches in the area and she liked what Pastor Jon Wenger had to say. So we started attending the little store front church, one block south of our present church. They were in a building program, building a new church building between the two Ottawa exits right off I-80! I helped them when I could, as I also was building our house at the same time! For many years we were just existing as parishioners at church. Donna and I did help some with the youth and we both taught Sunday School to Jr High kids, but later we were on not really growing or maturing as Christians. Slowly growing colder and colder, not really feeling like church was doing anything for us spiritually and were really feeling like giving up, but we knew we really needed to be in church. We still loved God through it all. Along comes Sonlife Radio to Ottawa, IL.
I was listening to my favorite program on the radio 88.9FM; but it wasn’t on. Something else was on. So I listened, and listened, but had no idea who this loud preacher was. But he was preaching like I hadn’t heard preaching in over 30 years! He was preaching the Truth! Who is this man? It was Donnie! That was 2004 and I haven’t stopped listening since! In 2005, February; Pastor Jon had Loren Larson come to his new church (motel). Kristen and I went and listened to him preach, and I got very convicted of my coldness and the church I was attending. We left; rather abruptly; and the first Sunday after Easter we started attending Heritage Christian Center and have been regular attenders ever since!
“The Message of the Cross” is why God moved me and my family to Marseilles. Jesus Christ and Him Crucified! God showed me. One block from our present church “HCC” is where we attended Pastor Jon’s storefront church, and now today, one exit east of the old “new church” we attended! God showed me like in Old Testament types. That old church was like the “old man,” or the flesh trying to work for God. And now only one exit east is the “Cross Way Church” where God is going to move; and is moving; to do a great work in these last days. Just as Jesus confirmed to me today in HCC through tongues and interpretation. I thank God for JSM & Sonlife Radio, and Pastor Jon & Debbie for heeding the call of God to start a church in Ottawa, IL. Preaching Jesus Christ and Him Crucified without apologies! God confirmed to me, that is why I moved to Marseilles; to be a part of that great ministry! Praise God!