Life certainly has a way of “getting busy”. Since, I started this blog a few years ago, I didn’t really know what it would amount to. Perhaps a way to organize my thoughts, express the Lord’s teaching in my life, or simply a mode of communication to express random thoughts. It’s hard to believe that this is my 100th post. In honor of the momentous occasion, I wanted to have a unique post.
I’ve been wanting to put together a written abridged testimony for some time now. Part of the problem is, it is hard for me to really pinpoint one specific moment in time and say “there it is, my life did a 180 degree turnaround”. Overall, it really boils down to a story about God’s grace working in my life.
I was born and raised on a farm outside a small town in Eastern Iowa. My family attended the Alice United Methodist Church in rural Linn County where I was baptized as an infant. The church was relatively small with beautiful stain glass windows and a cemetery adjacent. We were pretty regular attenders of both church and Sunday school and always participated in Vacation Bible School and special church dinners. Pastors, both young and old, male and female, came and went. There were church sponsored summer camps, youth group ski trips, and the annual kids Christmas play. I remember going through confirmation class in 8th grade with my mentor. The truth is, I have a lot of good memories from growing up in the church.
Overall, I was a pretty good kid. I had some issues with my temper growing up, but I strove to listen to and obey my parents and was a “rule follower”. I was good in school, got good grades and enjoyed learning. In fact, “religion” was attractive to me. This made me less resistant when a group of parents from my church talked about sending their boys to church retreat over Labor Day weekend my sophomore year of high school.
To provide some more backgorund, it’s probably useful to go back in time a couple months. Our church had just received a new pastor (United Methodists seem to rotate their Pastors quite frequently). He had a charismatic personality, and there was something different about him. He gave sermons that didn’t seem as “polished and religious” and that were best characterized as “genuine,” and he gave them with a passion. There seemed to be more to it than just religion…
In the meantime, my parents / pastor / friend’s parents (not sure exactly the combination), talked this group of teenage boys into attending a spiritual retreat called Chrysalis over Labor Day weekend the fall of 1999. After playing our season opening football game on Friday night, we awoke early (and sore) to head to this retreat. There were probably around 50 or so teenagers at the retreat with about a 2 to 1 girl to guy ratio (I think this is part of the selling point for guys). The majority of our time was spent in a conference room full of guys listening to talks, singing songs, and having discussions at our table. There were a lot of a passionate men who seemed to have more than just religion…
This retreat sparked something inside of me to question, “Do I really just have ‘religion’?” That weekend, on the outside, it probably seemed like nothing was really happening; but God was busy tearing apart my pre-conceived notion of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus. I realized that I really didn’t worship God like other Christians did. I really didn’t love God like other Christians did. I really didn’t know God like some of the other Christians did. I knew deep down that I was missing something…there was more to following Jesus than just religion…
During that 2 1/2 day retreat, God revealed to me by his grace what the perfect standard looks like (Jesus) and my utter sinfulness and my standing before him by my works. The word of God brought forth fruit as He showed me the true freedom found in His grace and the freedom granted by the forgiveness and removal of sin.
While I believe that I had long considered myself to be a Christian since I grew up in the church and believed all the “right” things, I can honestly look back at that weekend and say, “yes,” that was the weekend that things began to change. Albeit, my life was nowhere near perfect in the subsequent months. I’m sure I hurt a lot of people and did a lot of “non-Christian” things. But, deep down my “appetites” had changed, and there was an innate underlying desire to please God despite my short-comings and failures. In fact, God gave me the power not to sin (just as he does every believer). My heart ached at my disobedience, lack of self-control, and failure to submit to the authority of God. I desperately wanted to be that “passionate” man who truly had more than just hype and excitement.
Bottom line – I was truly changed. Overall, everything was just “different”.
This past week marked what I commonly consider my Christian birthday (09/04/99 – 09/06/99). For the past 11 years, I have been a born-again Christian. Recently, I have done some quiet reflecting on those years. A few quick thoughts have come to mind:
- I am so thankful to God for his provision in my life and for providing the way of reconciliation by the blood of Jesus.
- I am so thankful that my table at Chrysalis was filled with a bunch of godly men who gave of themselves and ministered to me and have continued to do so to this day. My table leader, Josh Miller (a younger pastor at a church in the Cedar Rapids area at the time), is now Lead Pastor at Harvest Vineyard Church in Ames, IA. My youth table leader (high schooler at the time), Kyle Nelson, now is the campus director for the ministry organization Navigators at the University of Northern Iowa. I also know of at least one other fellow table member who is also in full-time ministry.
- I am so thankful for my family and friends who have had to bear with the “not so perfect” me for the past 11 + years (and if they read this, they’re thanking God that He’s not done with me).
As Christians, we all have a story to tell of the goodness of God and the working of his grace in our lives. I’m thankful that God is continuing to write mine, and I hope to continue to share that with you all through this blog!