I had grown up with feelings of inferiority, insecurity, inadequacy, and guilt. No wonder I was so depressed!
A friend referred me to a biblical counselor at an Exchanged Life Ministries Center. The counselor opened the Bible and began to share wonderful truths about who God says I am. In that single session, my eyes were opened to some errors in my belief system, and my counselor helped me discover that the "flesh" is the root of all my problems.
As I drove home, I meditated on the truths that had been revealed to me. I felt so good! And then I realized that my depression was gone! Oh, how I looked forward to attending the GraceLife Conference.
A week later, the Conference began, and I was still rejoicing in the Lord. Each of the three days of the Conference was an exciting new adventure in truth. I learned more about who God is and who I am than I had learned in the 12 years since I had become a believer. Finally, I had found what I had searched so long and hard to find.
Throughout my Christian life I was taught that I had to fix myself and make myself good enough for God. But I knew I couldn't do that. I had tried so many times before and failed. This experience plus my negative up-bringing made me feel hopeless. I had had such a low opinion of myself. I thought that if I didn't fix myself before I died, I was going to hell.
But that all changed at the GraceLife Conference.
The Conference leader guided us through passages of Scripture that took us step-by-step through understanding the truth about salvation, assurance, security, acceptance, victory and identity in Christ...and total surrender.
By the end of the third and final day, all my negative feelings were gone! I was actually experiencing that "peace that surpasseth all understanding". My mind had been renewed. The evil power that had once held me in its grip was gone. A wonderful exchange had taken place: I had truly exchanged my old life for new life in Christ! I was a new creation - not simply because I felt new, but because that is the truth of God's Word!
I am so thankful to God for taking me to Exchanged Life Ministries - and I'm so thankful to Exchanged Life Ministries for taking me to God! The GraceLife Conference was the beginning of my new journey as a new person in Christ. I wish every Christian could attend a GraceLife Conference.
Life is Good
On November 18, 1978, Tomko hauls in a pass with both feet in bounds in the corner of the end zone, and the opportunistic Wheat Ridge High School wins the biggest playoff upset of the day. Life was good! Starting freshman Mark Tomko suits up for the first home game of the 1979 football season at the University of Colorado. During that same year, Mark attended several Fellowship of Christian Athlete's meetings and numerous Campus Crusades for Christ. He prayed to receive Christ at one of those meetings. Mark eventually transferred to Western State College where he played football, ran track, and received an academic scholarship. Life was good!
Mark moved back to Denver and met a girl who claimed to be "born again." Since Mark thought he was born again, everything seemed to be just right. Mark and the girl were soon engaged, without Christian guidance, and she introduced him to three new friends: cigarettes, alcohol, and cocaine. These new friends were great, especially after a hard day of work. Man, life was good! Mark and his girl soon parted, but the three friends stayed. Mark soon dropped the alcohol friend and replaced it with pornography. This foursome became very close and spent more time together. Life was good!
Mark's three friends really took a toll on his life as he continued that friendship battle. He encountered many heartaches and turmoil for several years, including a DUI charge, losing his driver's license for a year, and the death of his father, who had been ill for a long time. At one point, Mark lost interest in cocaine and decided to switch to crack.
A new girl came into his life in 1993. Soon, his relationship with this girl became shallow and empty, due to his closer relationship with his three devastating friends. In October, 1997, Mark found out that his girl was pregnant. Convincing his girl that he could indeed say good-bye to his three friends, cigarettes, crack, and pornography, he asked her to marry him. Life was going to be good!
However, old friends don't die easily when they have been such an important part of your life. On two separate occasions Mark sought professional help, once for 21 days and another time for seven weeks. Each time he temporarily got rid of these three friends, but they kept coming back. Mark never could buy into the answers given by the professional counselors, that he had a "disease." Mark's wife decided that he had serious problems, so she began a campaign of telling others - his mother, sister, and two best friends. Man, life was bad!
Since Mark knew that everyone close to him knew about his addictions, he decided to finally say good-bye to cigarettes, crack, and pornography for good. Marty, one of his close friends, got him to attend Riverside Baptist Church, in Denver. But again, his three friends just wouldn't go away. It was during this time that Mark's wife told him she was returning to Nebraska until he could find a solution to his problems. Man, life was terrible!
Mark told his wife not to give up hope because he would one day walk away from this life. On December 21, 1998, Mark called Riverside and asked for help. They referred him to Exchanged Life Ministries. On Monday, January 4, 1999, Mark had to have his wife drive him to his appointment. God placed him with a counselor named Lois Dick. Lois took one look at Mark and thought she was looking death in the eyes. The first words out of her mouth were, "Mark, why are you doing this to yourself? You don't have to live like this, you are a child of God!" All of a sudden the light came on. The old Mark Tomko died and the new Mark Tomko was resurrected into newness of life in Christ Jesus! Man, life in the flesh is so bad, but life in Christ is wonderful!
"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.... If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:32, 36).
Mark Tomko, reprinted with permission of The Vision, a publication of Riverside Baptist Church. Denver, CO.
I was eager to attend the GraceLife Conference, which was to be presented by Exchanged Life Ministries. God had been dealing with my heart over the previous few months in the area of abiding in Him. I had high hopes that this conference might just help me figure out how to abide, or at least give me some more much-needed insight. In the hectic race of life we live, it is often difficult to slow down long enough to hear that still, small voice of God nudging at our spirits. So it was with the first few sessions of the Conference; I thought things were moving a little slowly and, in my opinion, we could certainly pick up the pace a bit. It wasn't long before God pointed out to me that I was a classic PBA (Performance Based Acceptance) person, who also was a perfectionist. While this came as quite a shock to me, my friends gasped in disbelief that I had just now become aware of these not-so-flattering character flaws. Week after week, I didn't seem to have anything to share. Of course, I hadn't really made the time to listen. But, our God is magnificent and true to his word when He says He uses the simple things in the world to confound the wise.
It was Sunday, and I was going with a friend to the Bronco's game. Her company has a box that the employees have the opportunity to share. This particular game, the company president and several of his family members were scheduled to be in the box as well. This is a very affluent family that has experienced much tragedy. Life, though it has been good to them materially, had also caused them to become hard, bitter, angry, and very abrasive. I saw the president's daughter walk in with her baby and husband. I glanced at the baby and thought to myself, "What on earth is wrong with that child?" I avoided looking and grew very tense and uncomfortable, trying to enter quickly into conversation with a person nearby. I finally made myself look, and felt God tell me to go over, introduce myself to the mother and ask the normal questions about her baby. I did, with great trepidation - How old is she? What is her name? The mother volunteered answers to the unasked questions. She is eight months old and was born with a rare disease. There are only 25 known cases in the United States. She has had several surgeries already to correctly shape her head and forehead. She had no bridge at the top of her nose, causing a flat wide gap between her eyes. Her fingers were severely elongated, as were her arms and legs. The portions of her skull that allow room for the brain to grow had fused together prematurely, and she was born with club feet. In the eyes of the world, this precious child was a freak, something to be stared at and whispered about.
My heart went out to her immediately. I felt God telling me to love on her for the next three hours, or rather let Him love her through me. She had been born into a Godless, harsh family, and I felt He wanted her to experience His love for a little while. Her mother gladly let me hold her, which I did through almost the entire game. I was overwhelmed with compassion for this little baby who, according to the standards of this world, was a loser; who didn't have a chance; who some, I'm sure, would have suggested be aborted. I imagined her in school being taunted, teased, and ridiculed by other children. I imagined her being stared at in shopping malls and restaurants. My eyes welled with tears periodically as I imagined the long, hard and hurtful road ahead of her in a world focused on outward appearances and performance.
That's when God said to me, "See, the world thinks she doesn't have a chance, but I created her perfectly in My sight. I wove her together in her mother's womb. Her appearance is not a shock nor a mistake to me; she is as I created her. I have a plan for her life. It doesn't matter to Me what she looks like or how she performs. It doesn't matter to Me that she doesn't meet the standards of this world. To Me she is a masterpiece. You see, you don't have to perform to please Me. I t doesn't matter what car you drive, what type of house you live in, what job you have, or what things you own. You are perfect, you are my masterpiece, it is what's inside that counts, it is what I think that counts; it is because I love you."
Performance Based Acceptance
Wow! Tough words for a PBA! But as I looked down at that precious child who didn't utter one cry or whine the entire game, I came one step closer to understanding that God doesn't expect perfection from me, and He doesn't accept or reject Me on the basis of my performance. He wants me to love Him, trust Him, lean on Him, and abide in Him. He knows the end of the story because He wrote it; and I'm sure as He leads us, He often looks back and wonders why we don't trust Him.
"I just wanted to write a simple note to tell you that God has used you...to reaffirm to me who I really am in Christ. Yes, it is a life-exchanging experience and in me lies a freedom and a love that I've never known. Now that I know this, I can't go back."
Name withheld, San Francisco
A Safe Landing
"You know, I think the process of experiencing the exchanged life wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't so stubborn. Maybe you can tell the Lord is working on something that I've not wanted to let go of. I feel like I decided to try parachuting and got off the plane, but changed my mind. I'm clinging to the side of the plane, but the Lord pushed me out. The good part is that He jumped with me. Honestly, I felt terrified (my goal for life has always been to be safe), but in this process He has brought me to really know that I'll land safely with Him. That's a good thing to know BEFORE you land."
Name withheld, Grand Rapids
"To my wonderful amazement in the last two or three months I have seen how a born again believer, a SAINT, can exist in a hopeful, enriched and with power relationship with the God of this universe. All bought with the sacrifice of God's Son, Jesus Christ.... These past few months have brought into my practical life a quiet sense of peace in the midst of turmoil. Not something that I gritted my teeth, grunted and clawed into reality, no, this peace that I am experiencing resonates from my deepest innermost being and it is from the indwelling Holy Spirit! Oh, my dear friend, I could go on for pages expressing how wonderful it is to KNOW the hope of my calling, the riches of my inheritance and what is the surpassing greatness of the Power towards us who believe; of how all the things that I have learned under your discipleship have finally come together in a coherent, practical manner so that I can experience them first hand in my life."
Excerpts form a letter from Fort Worth