Our Story"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners"
I grew up in a family that loved God, went to church every week and was very involved in church, and yet I did not have a personal a relationship with Jesus Christ. I remember in my younger years being aware of the reality of a coming judgment day, and so at age seven I prayed the “sinner’s prayer” in hopes of avoiding hell. At that point, however, I did not truly understand the gospel.
Throughout my teenage years I had doubts about my standing before God. There were times when I would think, Maybe I’m not truly a Christian. Maybe I’m just going through the motions, and I’m not truly saved. But then, in pride, I would shake off those feelings, and resist that idea. What would others think of me? Everyone around me thinks I’m already a Christian. From the outside, no one could tell my inward struggle. I wasn’t rebellious or disrespectful. I looked like I had my life together and I was a “good kid.” But inwardly, I knew that I was lacking a real and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a true hunger for His word, a brokenness over sin, and a desire to see others come to know Him.
On November 27, 2012, I began filling out an application for a Christian training program called ALERT, and one of the questions was this: “Have you ever doubted your salvation?” In my heart I knew I had, but for all those years my pride had kept me from admitting it. However, now, with this question staring me in the face, I felt I could no longer hide. I had to be honest. The Lord was using this moment to humble me and lead me to Himself.
I was saved!
I had found true peace with God, and all the doubts were gone. And for the first time, my life began to bear real fruit. God gave me a heart that desired to live for Him and serve Him, not out of compulsion, but out of love for Him.
In the months that followed, I went through the ALERT program and was tested to my physical limits. This drove me to depend even more on God. As a young man, I can say this was one of the greatest things God used to strengthen and build my faith in Him.
When I returned home, God put it on my heart to encourage some younger guys to join me in systematically reading through the Bible, from cover-to-cover. Each day, I would text out the chapters for us to read along with some questions about the passage, and then I would share a few of my personal thoughts as well. This experience was very good for me as it got me out of my comfort zone! I’m normally more quiet and reserved, so God really used this to help grow and stretch me.
Then came the greatest experience thus far in my Christian walk—God opened a door for me to be able to go to The Crown College in Powell, TN! There, I was able to focus my time on in-depth study of the Bible. We studied the overarching story of redemption, from the types and “shadows” of Christ in the Old Testament, to the full revelation of our Salvation made plain in the New Testament. All of this helped me to gain a greater perspective of the Word of God, and of life in general!
If there was one truth I could share with you personally it would be this: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).
I was raised in a loving, Christian home, and I professed faith in Christ when I was 4 years old. However, in the following decade, I didn’t really notice much of a difference in my life. When I was 9 years old, my dad began pastoring a church.
Throughout my childhood I would occasionally have doubts as to whether or not I was truly saved. When I was 15 years old, the Lord started working in my life when I was taking a Bible college course through our church. We were studying the topic of Salvation, and the instructor was speaking of how we can have an assurance of our salvation—that we can know for sure that we are going to heaven.
As I opened up to my mom and dad about this, they explained in more detail from the Word of God how if I would simply place my faith and trust solely in Jesus Christ, and Him alone, that I could be saved. There wasn’t anything I could do through my own merit to earn salvation. It wasn’t based on the words I prayed, the things I did, the church I attended, or even being a pastor’s child. It was ONLY calling on the Lord Jesus Christ, and allowing Him to come into my life. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
I simply believed, and put my faith and trust in Jesus—that He died on the cross for my sins and that HE alone could save me. I then prayed and asked the Lord to forgive me of my sins and to save me! He came into my life and changed me! I haven’t struggled with doubts about my salvation since that day!
Praise God for this truth! “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
Joe, how did you meet Kendra, and how did your relationship begin?
The very first time I met the Caldwell family was in 2012, when I visited Lighthouse Baptist Church, which is pastored by Paul Caldwell. My friend, Austin Forsyth, was a member there. (Austin is now my brother-in-law! He is married to my sister, Joy Anna!)
For several years, our friend circles and the Caldwell’s friend circles seemed to overlap, so we would see them from time to time. Our families soon became good friends! Then in 2015, my family began attending Lighthouse Baptist Church. At this time, I never would’ve dreamed what the future would hold!
It wasn’t until the summer of the following year that I first took notice of Kendra. I had developed a good friendship with her dad, but I hadn’t spoken with Kendra very much at that point. However, the more I talked with her and observed her from a distance, the more impressed I became with her godly character and her sweet and gentle spirit. The more I got to know about her as a person, the more I was drawn to her.
I knew that pursuing a relationship would be a big decision, so I talked with my parents and I fasted and prayed. I asked the Lord to lead me and show me if this was His will and direction for my life. During this time, I started talking more with Kendra’s parents as well.
There was something special about this girl. I saw such sincerity in her love for the Lord and for people. There were times when I would see young people who were actively serving in their churches, but sometimes I would get the feeling that it was out of a sense of duty or because of the expectations of people around them. However, as I observed Kendra day-in and day-out, I could see that her reason for serving and giving stemmed from her heart. It was based in a deep-rooted love for Jesus, and that’s something that seems so rare to find in today’s world.
It didn’t take long for me to became convinced that Kendra was the girl I wanted to pursue! I reached out to her parents, letting them know my intentions in this friendship with their daughter. But as timing would have it, this conversation occurred right as their whole family was leaving town for a two-week vacation. This time of being apart wasn’t necessarily easy for me, but it was good for me. I had plenty to keep me busy, as I was finishing up my studies in order to get my Real Estate license. However, the days did seem to drag by, and I was so excited when they returned home!
Kendra and I started talking to each other A LOT. From the time of our very first long and in-depth conversation, I could see that we had a lot of common goals and interests. Over the next few months we were enjoying getting to know each other, and there were plenty of stories shared from our childhoods, as well as lists of personal favorites and such. But on a deeper level, we shared our Salvation testimonies with each other, and discussed personal beliefs and doctrinal standpoints. The more we talked the more we could see that this was the direction the Lord was leading us. We had truly become each other’s best friends! It’s amazing how similar our families were, but even on a personal level, we were very similar. As time went on, we realized that each of us had been praying for someone with the very qualities that we both saw in each other, without knowing who the one was that the Lord might have for us to marry.
In February 2017, I asked Kendra’s dad for permission to court his daughter, and he and his wife gave their blessing. When it came to asking Kendra to be my girlfriend, I wanted to surprise her with the timing! Since I work in the car business, I made plans for Kendra, some of our siblings, and me to go to an auto auction together. The date was March 7. We tried to make everything as casual as possible. When the auction was over, I nonchalantly suggested that maybe she’d like to stop by and see the location where my childhood home used to be. She was up for it, so we drove over, and as we took a stroll around the property I segued into “This was the area where I started my life… and I was wondering if you would want to start a new part of life with me by entering a courtship?” Kendra was so surprised! She said, “Yes, of course!” I presented Kendra with a promise ring as a token of my commitment to her. Our courtship began, and we were so excited for the future!
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