December 2001

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How did God bring First Place into my life? In 1998, I spent some time with my college roommate at a baby shower in Greenville, South Carolina. When I saw her, I couldn’t believe my eyes. She was half the person she was the last time I saw her. She shared with me that she and her husband had gone through First Place. I walked away from her wanting First Place because I was overweight and depressed, but I had never heard of it nor had I heard of any classes around here. Months later, I ran into another friend at the fair in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. She had lost weight and the program was First Place. She told me of a group at her church. My heart jumped with joy. I just couldn’t believe it. This friend said she would get the information to me a few days prior to orientation. Do you know that the day she dropped the information off, I heard her ring my doorbell, but I was too depressed to even answer the door. Thankfully, she was persistent and left the materials in my car I never leave my car unlocked, except on this day. All I can say is that God was calling me and was not going to allow me not to get into this First Place class. And I praise Him for his longsuffering with me!

Before I went through First Place, there was no balance to my life. I was overweight, physically unfit, lazy, smoked cigarettes and never exercised. I would rather sit on the couch for eight hours with chips—I was lazy and self-seeking. I certainly did not view my body as the temple—the actual dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Emotionally, I was a basket case. My emotions ran me and my day was determined by whatever emotion I was experiencing at that time. I struggled with depression for a length of time and I sought approval from man and not God. Spiritually, I was void and empty. I used Jesus as a waiter—when I needed the next thing, I called for Him. At age 26, I found that my life was nothing as I had dreamed it to be. At this time in my life I worked in Charlotte and commuted from Kings Mountain. I am a CPA in the tax division of a large firm. This meant many hours at the office and on the road. My job and my career were my gods. My career afforded me no time for much else. Are you getting the picture of why God led me to First Place?

Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” This scripture is the theme for First Place. Seek God first and He will add to or subtract from you. Jesus as the center of my life is what I desperately needed. I was saved when I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until age 26 that I accepted Him as Lord of my life and I began a personal, daily relationship with Jesus Christ. What a difference He makes in my life! First Place was the vehicle that the Holy Spirit used to woo me and draw me into real relationship with Him. My life has never been the same. Through that first session of First Place, I met my God that I had never known. I experienced Him as My Deliverer, My Healer, My Friend, My Comforter, My Prince of Peace, and My Abba Father. Through this program, I have lost 25-30 pounds, maintained the loss, and now exercise is a regular part of my life. God delivered me from my smoking habit. I now walk in victory over my emotions so that they no longer determine my days nor my attitudes all the time. God brought balance to my life and taught me that my identity and my worth were in Him, not in my career or what others thought of me. He taught me to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. I experienced His faithfulness, even when I wasn’t faithful. You are probably saying how did God do all that in a twelve-week session. I tell you that I am a continual work-inprogress and that my personal relationship with Christ transformed my life and He is still conforming me to His image. I experienced Philippians 4:13 and truly put into practice that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” You see in that twelve-week session, Christ taught me of Himself and how to give Him first place in my life. He taught me how to surrender my life to Him. The other changes, such as the weight loss, were simply experiencing who He is-and He is the Great I Am.

Please don’t hear, “Wow, Ashley sure was messed up.” But do hear, “God has done a mighty work in Ashley’s life and He turned her ashes into beauty.” Isaiah 61:3 says that Christ came to “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” And so you see, God took the ashes of my life and turned them into beauty and gave me gladness for my mourning and replaced my despair with praise.

My first session in First Place was in the fall of 1998. Since then I have been leading a First Place group and all but one time, I’ve led the Bible study entitled, “Giving Christ First Place.” I kept wondering why God never let me out of this very first bible study. Those of you who have studied Jacob will know that Jacob first met God at Bethel (Genesis 28). Later in his life, God told Jacob to return to Bethel (Genesis 35), because that was the first place God revealed Himself to Jacob. First Place is my Bethel and so God continues to have me return there. Psalm 34:8 says, Taste of the Lord and see that He is good. Through First Place, the Lord allowed me to taste of Him and I testify to you today that He
is good!

First Place may not be the way that the Holy Spirit woos and draws you, but do know that Christ wants you to have a real relationship with Him.

Ashley Jones
Gastonia, North Carolina

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I thank God for leading me to the First Place Program. My name is Vivian, and I am a repeater in the program. The first session I lost weight, but this time I’ve been more focused on memorizing the scripture, and I’m committed to the Bible study. I’ve definitely had a life-changing experience in my life since I started eight weeks ago. It amazes even me to see the transformation God has miraculously made in my life.

Just recently I lost my job, and through using the materials in my kit, it’s been amazing to see how God has sustained me. When I got my First Place Member Kit, I thought that all those other things in it were just filler, like the tissue paper you could use to help fill a gift bag. But God convinced me that every piece of material in that kit was designed especially for me. The CD,
tapes and Bible study have been a real blessing in my life. Every item in my kit has blessed me, particularly now that I am going through a very difficult time in my life.

I would love to say that there is one special verse out of the 10 (Giving Christ First Place) verses we have this session that I confess more than the others. But every verse somehow helps me though the challenges that have been set before me. Praise the Lord for his good, perfect and indescribable gifts.

Vivian Ogunleye
Houston, Texas