One thing I think it’s important to do early on this site is to share a little bit of my story. I think it’s important on several levels. You get a chance to get to know me a little bit better and I get a chance to brag on God for how he has kept me from falling. Also important is the fact that God seems to have wired us to be storytelling creatures. Much of the Bible consists of narrative and stories that continue to exert powerful influence on society to this very day. Looking back on my life, the time that I was seriously in danger of falling away from the faith was in high school and then in my initial transition into college. I’ll probably need to start a little before that though.
I very distinctly remember that as a little child I thought I was going to Heaven. There were many factors that convinced me of this. First was the fact that I was from a Christian family and I thought that counted for something. We went to Church every Sunday and I thought that counted for something too, even though I didn’t really like it. I also thought I was going to Heaven because I was part Jewish. I had asked someone once what relationship Christians had with Jews and they told me that all the Jewish people were going to Heaven because they were God’s covenant people. I also, like almost everyone, thought I was a good person. I have an extremely vivid memory of being in my house as a very little child climbing up the shelves in the closet thinking about Heaven as I did so. I concluded that I was definitely going to Heaven because I was so much better behaved than all the other boys in school. Ironically, looking back, I’m pretty sure that I was climbing those shelves against the direct command of my mom. I was probably trying to get back a toy she had taken away because I was misusing it. Nevertheless, on the question of my eternal destiny Heaven was my firm conclusion.
It wasn’t until middle school that I think I really understood the Gospel. I’m not sure exactly when I became a Christian, but I’m sure it was in that time and I can point to two major events that were pivotal. The first event was the first time I ever realized I was a sinner. There was a youth leader named Joey who explained how Christ had lived the perfect life that was pleasing to God, and as good as most of us think we’ve been, we can’t measure up. I can’t remember if he explicitly shared the Gospel message or not. All I remember was being stunned by what I had learned about myself and about Jesus. The second moment came when my Mom was challenged by two of her Christian friends to get baptized. She had never been baptized as a believer, only sprinkled as a child. She decided that getting baptized as a believer by immersion was Biblical and so she asked me if I wanted to get baptized as well. I remember her and her friends sitting down with me and explaining that if I was getting baptized I was essentially saying that I’m not a Christian because of my Mom anymore, that I really believe that Jesus died in my place for my sins and rose again on the third day. I knew at that point that for sure I really did believe those things and that I was ready to be baptized.
I remember during middle school that a real change happened in my life. Again, I can’t point to a specific moment when it happened, but there is ample evidence that it happened. I remember I became excited to go to Church, to sing the hymns, to recite the creed and confession (I grew up in an Episcopal Church. While that Church is pretty far to the left of where I’ve ended up, I am still in awe of the depth of much of what was written in the Book of Common Prayer), That was when I first got excited about reading my Bible. It was pretty clear that Jesus meant something to me and that I really understood that I belonged to him. It seemed like things were only going to get better.
How the Wheels Came Off
There is no doubt whatsoever for me that High School was the worst time of my life. There are many things that happened, but I’ll just highlight two that were especially tough for me. The first is the fact that my Church split. My Mom and I had really like the priest who was leading the Church, but one day some members of the Church brought some allegations against him. He maintained his innocence and split off to form his own Church. My mom and I went with him, totally believing he was innocent. We later became convinced that he wasn’t. That was pretty tough for me to process as a young teenager. We started to look for a new Church but I remember not liking any of the ones we visited. Sometimes on Sunday mornings, my Mom would come in to my room to wake me up for Church and I would pretend to be asleep and not hear her, thinking if I could stall long enough I could get her to give up on bringing me to Church. Somehow I ended up in a place where I didn’t want much to do with Church.
The second thing that happened was that in high school I found myself essentially friendless. Coming into my freshman year of high school I only knew two people at the school I was going to. It was okay, I thought, because I had been best friends with them for years. It wasn’t so bad at first. People were friendly and I still hung out with by two best friends quite a bit. Then something began to change. My two friends began to become popular and to form circles of friends of their own. I was not so lucky. There were people here and there that were certainly friendly to me, and there were a couple of guys who befriended me to a certain extent for whom I am still grateful. Without them I can’t even imagine how dark of a place I would have sunk to. Nevertheless, it became clear that where I once had two guys who considered me one of their best friends in the world, there was now no one who regarded me in that way. I felt very alone, and that puts a person in a very dangerous place.
Conformed to the Image of This World
In Romans 12:2, Paul tells us not to be conformed to this world. Unfortunately, when you are not going to Church, not reading your Bible, and spending eight hours a day surrounded by high schoolers who are entering into a phase in life where they are beginning to rebel, being conformed to the world is almost an inevitability. My words were conformed to the world and my speech became increasingly vulgar. My beliefs became conformed to the world. I remember, to my shame, adopting a pro-choice view, knowing that it would overwhelmingly be approved of by my peers. In my anger at the Church, I even got to the point that I would mock churches and Christian leaders.
Kept by the Power of God
Amazingly, even though I had turned my back on God, even though I was in a dangerous and vulnerable place, God was at work during that time. Sometimes when I look back, it doesn’t seem like it because so much of my life at that point was ungodly. But I remember several instances where I felt moved to stand up to a classmate and defend the existence and goodness of God. Those moments were rare, but they happened. Perhaps most amazing is that I wasn’t pulled into the world of drunkenness and illegal drugs that the friends who I had come to high school with had fallen into.
I vividly remember the moment that I consider to be one of the defining decisions I ever made. One of my best friends growing up had thrown a Gasparilla party the previous year that had become legendary. If you don’t know what Gasparilla is, imagine if Mardi Gras happened in Tampa except people dressed up like pirates and you’ve pretty much got it. Anyway, the party had multiple kegs, people had gotten very drunk and they were all looking forward to doing it again. I ran into him at school and during the conversation he referenced that he would in fact be doing it again, and then he looked at me and paused. I have spent a lot of time in my life wondering why he paused. Did he realize that he hadn’t invited me to the last one and felt awkward? Did he want to invite me to this one but wasn’t sure if I was judging him for his new lifestyle? After the pause, he invited me to his party. I remember being very aware of the fact that this was probably my only way to escape being a loser in High School, my only chance of gaining social acceptance. It was very, very, appealing to me. I said no. To this day I still wonder why I said no. I had wanted what I thought that party could give me so badly that I spent the rest of the class period wondering if I should go and tell him that I changed my mind.
I remained convinced to this day that it was the work of God that kept me from going down a path that it would have been extremely tough to recover from. He wasn’t done yet though. I came to college, still very much in a place where I was being governed by things completely other than a love of God. If something major didn’t change soon, I was still headed for trouble. Fortunately, something major did change. The night before classes started my first year, I set out with a map to find the locations of all the buildings I would need to get to the next day. I heard someone calling my name, which was odd to me because I hadn’t met anyone yet. It was a girl from high school who I didn’t know was a Christian and who I didn’t know was going to be going to the same school as me. She said she was with her church (actually she didn’t even say it was a church, I figured that out later), and that they were doing the same thing I was, finding people’s classes. She asked me if I wanted to join them and I made up my mind to try to say “no” as politely as I could. Somehow I said yes. I’m still not sure how I could open my mouth to say one thing and say the opposite but that’s what I’m convinced happened.
That very night I met people who are still close friends and brothers and sisters in Christ to this day. I joined that church and over 10 years later, I’m still a member. The genuine love for Jesus that I saw among the members of the Church re-ignited my heart for our Lord. Since that moment I’ve been completely determined to live for Jesus and I haven’t looked back.
I hope that this story served you well in pointing to the God who has done great things in my life and was faithful to me even when I was faithless to him. Ultimately I think every story can work as a parable of sorts and I think looking back on my own story there are three main lessons that I would want to pull out.
First, if you are in a place where you feel like turning your back on God, let me urge you not to. I’ve been on both sides and can clearly say that things get better the closer you get to Jesus. I know that for most of you thinking of walking away there’s a good chance that you’ve been hurt by some of those that claim to follow Jesus. They can hurt you but only Jesus can truly heal you. Please don’t walk away.
Second, to those who know someone that seems to be walking away from the faith, don’t give up on them. Keep praying for them, keep pointing them to Jesus. I know it can seem hopeless and it can be frustrating that God doesn’t seem to be doing anything, but you need to know that he can and that his intentions are kind. I know he can keep them from falling away both because he kept me from falling away and because the Word says he can: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).
Lastly, I hope everyone notices the girl that invited me to Church. She played a pivotal role my story and her involvement lasted less than two minutes of real time. She invited me to tag along with her and her friends who loved Jesus. That was it. That was enough. You have no idea what someone you run across has been through or what God has been doing in their life. God could use your small act of kindness in ways you could never dream of.
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