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  • Kate Ledbetter

From “Sweepstakes” to Salvation

By Kate Ledbetter

“Sweepstakes Jesus”- this was the name I would eventually give to the god I served for almost twenty years of my life.

I was raised in a Christian home. At six years old, I made a salvation profession based on my oldest sister's emotions. It seemed very important to her that I say a prayer with her, so I did. At nine, I was terrified in Sunday School at the thought of going to Hell so I came to my mother and prayed my very own prayer. I was determined that this time, it would stick. You can imagine how I felt when I turned twelve. I began to wonder if I was saved. I was so defeated.

You see, I was raised in an independent, fundamental, King James-only, Baptist church. I am thankful I was raised with a knowledge of the Bible and a fear of God, but I was also raised in an atmosphere that pushed a works-based acceptance of sin, self, and “saviour” that used the Bible to solidify false hope. I knew about God. But I was never encouraged to listen to His voice in conviction. I was never given a Biblical understanding of what repentance was or taught that relationship is about the full reality and desire to please Him. I did not know to give Him my everything, not just simply for personal gain.

My new birth story is my favorite to tell. I could write about it for days and days. The longer I have been saved, the more I understand what the Lord did in my life. It gives me the deepest desire to share it more. The Lord has been, and is, so so good. Today, let me tell you the highlights.

My husband and I had been married almost a year when I got saved. I am a preacher's daughter. I had graduated from Christian and from Bible College. I married a preacher. After losing our first child, I discovered I was pregnant again. I was striving to do it all "right," and I was absolutely miserable. It is hard to be a fraud. There is no joy in pretense. I was a Pharisee of the worst kind. The Lord tried to speak to my heart, and just as the Pharisees of The Bible days, I called God a devil when He would come. I would then cling to my own understanding and to a false profession.

I liked the “god” I had created in my own mind. He was perfect to me because he never disagreed. He was argumentative and head strong. He was just in my eyes because he saw everything the way I saw it. He was haughty and proud and everything he did outwardly was done to look down on the world around me. I had him on a pedestal slightly lower than mine. But if asked, he was definitely "first place" in my life.

I was a miserable cow. Imagine living with me. Yuck! I could hide a lot from my husband when we were dating and engaged. Being married meant he never went home. I never had any down time to process my overwhelming thoughts, and his ease of service to the Lord aggravated me to no end. Not only did I have myself on a pedestal above God, but I was most definitely standing tall above my husband, Jeff Ledbetter. If he would only listen to me, I was sure and certain, his world would be perfect.

I started out our first Sunday morning married deciding I was not going to church because my hair would not fix right. You can imagine my indignation when my newlywed husband had the audacity to look me in the face and say, "Katie! Get ready! We will miss Sunday School today, but that will never happen again!" I am so thankful for a man who did not harken to the voice of his wife that day. I cannot imagine where my life would be today if he had not stood for what was right. We went to church, and as promised, we did not miss any more after that.

We had been married a few months, and one day I was out of sorts (for probably no reason.) Jeff looked at me and said, "What is wrong with you?" I decided to let a wall down and be transparent. "I do not know! Sometimes I wonder if I am even saved or not." To this, Jeff said, "Well, are you?" Oh my! How the anger boiled up and over! How dare he even ask that question! I said, "Of course I am!" From that day until the day I got saved, my husband prayed for my salvation.

I graduated from Bible college. In the summer of 1999, Jeff was asked to preach at a youth camp. I had just found out I was pregnant with our daughter. I was struggling. Since my admission to Jeff, our pastor had preached on doubting salvation. He made a statement the Lord used to change my life. He said, "If you do not know if you are saved or not, ask the Lord to show you and He will." I never understood anything about a personal relationship with God before. That pastor taught me so much about that relationship. He said God knew my every thought, so hiding things from Him was quite silly.

I began to not pray for the first time out of desire, not duty. I thought during this time that God hated me. I had lived through a series of difficult circumstances. I came to believe that I was God's laughing stock. I was taught that God was One to be feared in a literal sense because He was waiting to rain down punishment. I believed He enjoyed bringing pain to my life. With this, would He really care enough to show me the truth? Maybe He wanted to throw me in Hell. I longed for the truth and the knowledge of what was real. This reality that I could ask God to show me my unbelief was both comforting and terrifying. What would He show me?

At the youth camp, Jeff was scheduled to preach the Thursday night service, but was shifted to the Wednesday service instead. I wrestled with God the entire time. For weeks, I had been asking Him to show me if I was saved. Then I would proceed to convince Him of my own righteousness and even thank Him for it. I had, after all, prayed my own prayer. I knew He had died for me and that I was a sinner. I had been told this my whole life; of course it had to be true. I made it through that service. Little did I know what a difference twenty-four hours would make in my life.

Thursday, July 29, 1999, I awoke tired. I was soul-weary. By the time we went to the evening service, the Lord had lovingly worn me down. He so graciously kept coming that day and speaking to my heart. As we sat while the preacher got up to preach, I knew for the first time that God was speaking. I needed to listen. I begged Him to please show me if I was saved or if I was lost. I told Him I would be quiet and listen. He began to show me myself. He took me from the time of my false profession and asked me to show Him where He had been in my life. I was excited as I showed Him sin that I had turned from. That excitement was dashed as He showed me I had only stopped sinning to keep from telling my father, hurting him, or because I would have been caught and did not want to get into trouble.

I then realized- I had never one time experienced conviction over my sin. It is hard when conscience and conviction get confused, when you anchor your conscience with the Bible, just as the Pharisees did. It is very difficult to see the Truth.

I was still deep in prayerful thought when I asked the Lord, "But what about my salvation profession?" I do not know what the message title was that night or where the passage the preacher used was. I do know that the Lord used “the foolishness of preaching” to bring me to Him. As I asked the question, the preacher said the only thing I remember from his sermon, "Some people get saved for the relief of it all."

The Lord used those words to show me that I was one of those people.

I had just wanted something for myself. I had wanted my “Sweepstakes Jesus” to give me what I asked for. In my mind, He owed me because I prayed a prayer. Now, I was to be given eternal life, a mansion, crowns, streets of gold, and whatever else my ticket to Heaven was good for. In one moment of time, ”Sweepstakes Jesus” became an idol I had been worshipping for almost twenty years. I had made a god of the people I loved. I had made a god of myself. I came face-to-face with this reality - I was lost!

I was raised with a lot of tradition. I wish I knew then what I know now. I did not have to wait to move, but I simply did not know that then. I torturously waited until the invitation. I believe I got saved the minute I moved. I knew I was lost, but I had not humbled myself until I took that step. I also drug my husband to the altar. Jeff looked at me on the altar and said, "Why are we here?" I said, "Because I am lost, and I need to be saved right now." He smiled. This man, the only one who had been praying for this very thing, simply said, "Honey, you already know what to do." I must have looked at him as if it was a “lightbulb” moment. I did not need anyone, but Jesus! I turned to Him. In that moment, a beautiful relationship was born. He became Who He is in my life, not who I thought or wanted Him to be.

I am now twenty-two years down the road, and I often go back in my mind to that day. He loves me! He leads me! He wants me! I am His!

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