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“I’ll take heaven and all it’s joys even if Jesus is not there.” While these words never came out of my mouth, they were my true thoughts until my sophomore year of college. My story is one of God’s grace to a whitewashed tomb. My life was one of looking morally righteous on the outside while being a cesspool of sin inside. But God would not let me run from Him into sin or into self-righteousness but drew me by his grace for his glory.
I grew up just outside of Pittsburgh, PA as the middle son of three in a stable family. My parents taught us good morals, taught us from the bible and were heavily involved in a small Church of the Brethren Church. I remember most major Old Testament Bible stories, but very little about the heart of Christianity. That does not mean that it wasn’t taught, my parents did a wonderful job instructing me in the faith, but my heart was simply hard to it. Though, neither of us saw it that way. You see, I thought that Christianity was about looking good in front of others, being a nice person and not doing anything to bad (murder, rape, being an atheist, etc.). So, that’s what I spent my life running after. I had good grades, I had a good job, I was involved at Church, I didn’t cuss (much), I didn’t drink, and I didn’t smoke. So I thought that God must accept me. But as I said, I was a whitewashed tomb. In private I was addicted to pornography, involved in a what l knew was a terrible relationship, and consumed by people’s perception of me. But I could never share any of this with anyone because everything in my life was built so that I could pursue the praise of other’s for my own glory.
All of that changed for me during my time at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. I had come to Ball State to study architecture and go on to be a partner at a great firm in a big city. During my sophomore year, the relationship that I had been involved in for two and a half years ended the first week of school. The relationship that I had sacrificed for, worshiped and defined myself by was over. In short, my god was gone. I felt as though my world was crashing around me, but God was simply setting the stage for his marvelous redemption of my life. Over the course of the first part of the semester I began a friendship with a girl from my architecture department. She was cute and I liked her, so I went along when she invited me to a meeting with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ). It proved to be life-changing.
One of the most powerful things I saw was the relationships that the men had with one another. They were a family, and I wanted to be a part of that. So, I went to a men’s retreat and heard a student share his faith journey to Jesus and finding forgiveness for his sexual sin. It was the first time I had “ really heard” the gospel and the Lord lifted the veil over my eyes to see his glory in the face of Jesus. I should explain what I mean by “the gospel.” The gospel simply means good news, and is shorthand in the Bible for the central message of Christianity. This is the message summarized by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6:
Now I would remind you , brothers of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
At the center of this message is the news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for our sins. This message is given consistently throughout the Bible, the unfolding story of God’s redemption. Although we were created by God for a perfect relationship of love and worship with him, we rebelled against his gracious rule and reign, seeking to be god of our own lives. We have neglected his goodness and sought to establish our own ways. It is absurd really. Its like a great painting which should display the glory of its painter, declaring to the world that the painter did not create it, but it created itself. However, in his great love for us, God came to earth and took on flesh in the person of His son Jesus and died the death that we deserved and rose again so that any and all who trust in Him can be restored to this right relationship for which we were created.
Okay, back to my story.
I pulled this student aside afterwards and confessed everything that I knew of as sin in my life. He was probably a bit overwhelmed by all that, but he just loved me, accepted me, and told me of God’s love for me. That night I trusted in the finished work of Christ on my behalf. The Lord began to do some incredible things in my life. I was able to leave behind sin patterns in my life, not perfectly, but definitely. I desired to be used by God in big ways to see people embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior, and most importantly I desired Jesus. I wanted to be in relationship with him, to know him and to be known by him. I ended up on a missions trip overseas that summer and shared my faith for the very first time. It was an incredible experience and God used it to call me into ministry full-time for life. I did not quite know it right then and there, but with further reflection I realize that the basis for my calling into ministry was established that summer. I learned four great truths about the world and myself that lead me to that conclusion. The first is that the greatest problem in the world is sin. That is what plagues everyone on the planet regardless of sex, religion, race or social status. All other problems are simply symptoms of this one great problem. The second truth was that the only solution to this problem is Jesus as he is revealed in the gospel. Only he has dealt with sin through his death and resurrection, paying the penalty of sin for God’s people throughout all time. The last two truths were about myself. The first being that God could and was using me to bring this solution to this problem. The second, that I wanted to do just that with the best hours of my day. It was clear to me that full-time ministry was the way that God was calling me to glorify him.
I got married to that cute girl who had invited me to my first Cru meeting and we served together with that student organization at Ball State University for 5 years. Currently, we still live in Muncie, IN with our three children. I have been an elder at New Life Presbyterian Church for the last 4 years and on staff at the church since June of 2014. I am on staff as a Church Planting apprentice, and will be the lead Pastor of the daughter congregation we are starting in downtown Muncie. We are seeking to start a missional and multicultural reformed church in downtown Muncie. (see more at our website:http://hopeformuncie.org) We are intentionally building a multiethnic church because it is what we see the Bible teaches us of what it means to be the family of God. Essentially we want to be a place for all the people of Muncie to come with their unique background and life experiences and learn what it means to worship Jesus. This has been a new phase of my faith journey. One in which I am learning how truly inadequate I am and yet how sufficient Jesus is for me and our new community of faith.