So, I briefly talked about this story the other day with a friend, and thought it might just be good to throw it up on here. Whatcha gonna do, right?
I guess I won’t quite start off at the beginning – but I’ll get there just as quickly as I can. Many of the powerful testimonies you’ll here involve drugs, sex, (maybe) rock ‘n’ roll, and this miraculous, love-crazed savior (which indeed he is) that dragged up the poor, overwhelmed sinner from his pit. Mine’s a bit like that – but God didn’t save me from drugs – he saved me from pride. He didn’t save me from sex either – just ignorance. He certainly didn’t save me from rock ‘n’ roll – but he saved me from the only individual who can tell me a perfect lie that I’ll always believe – myself. No fireworks, just the great heart of an unrelenting God that would never give up on me.
Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
I was born a child of privilege. I’ve come to accept that to be a simple, over-riding truth of my life. Not that my parents were wealthy – far from it, my needs were met and we never went hungry, but we didn’t do too much more than make ends meet either. No, when I say privilege – I mean that I had every opportunity to succeed, and very few chances to fail. My father was an elder in the church, my mother sang in the choir. Dad is one of my best friends – always has been, always will be – and I can honestly say the wisest man I know – no hyperbole, no exaggeration, and many would agree with me. Mom is an artist, a marathoner, disciplined, musical, and carried a 4.0 all the way through college – she stayed at home through my whole school career. Dad instilled in me a love of true beauty and a search for truth, mom a drive and confidence that few other people could bestow upon another. Are they perfect? Not quite – but they are far more a blessing than any person deserves or would ever think to ask for. With very few exceptions, anything good or strong in my character came directly from them, anything dark or weak – that lies solely on my shoulders, promise. So, if they were that active and involved, I’m automatically a Christian, right? Not so fast – the answer is absolutely not. I remember my childhood – praying over and over that God would save me - most nights, in fact, as my dad prayed with me. He just let it go on and on, until one day, I stopped – I was finally confident that I’d prayed it enough and I was good to go. As time went on – I lived well. I usually did the right thing, despite a penchant and talent for lying; I was the good, quiet kid who knew all the answers. I was a leader in the youth group – even in junior high – I’d been instrumental in a few other kids’ belief in Christ. Sunday school teachers were glad to have me, church leaders enjoyed visiting with me, I was “one of the most steadfast young me to grow up in the church.” And once I was old enough to feel encumbered by “the rules,” and recognize it… I was miserable.
Romans 6:23 – The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
I went to a tiny Christian school right up until high school. Now, depending on your background, that could lead you to believe I’m talking about a high-powered, money wielding private school. I’m not. Practically volunteer teachers, borrowed text books, a church that put us up in an old, rickety house they had on their land, and never more than 50 kids, and only about 6 in any given class. Regardless, one more situation where I was surrounded by good people who genuinely cared for me (seems to be a recurring theme). At the end of my seventh grade year, the school didn’t have enough staff to add on any eighth graders – our public junior high didn’t have many marks in its favor – and mom decided to home-school me… that poor, poor woman. Little did she know that in this home-school year, everything that I had been up to this point would come crashing down – beautiful how life works like that, isn’t it? I didn’t know it at the time, but I was miserable, depressed, sick of living by rules and regulations that meant not a thing to me. I cried most days, slammed an algebra or Spanish book into a wall some others. Convinced myself that my mother hated me – that she didn’t want me to have friends, didn’t want to let me grow up, who knows what else. But a year of this was not what anybody wanted, that much I know for sure. As time progressed, my depression deepened – everything bothered me, and perhaps more importantly – everything bothered me more than it should. Suicide was at least a weekly thought, I’ve always been a little dark, so at first it was something that had some pleasure to it – just an emotional release. But it grew. Looking back, I clearly remember a day when everything had gone badly and I wanted no part of it. I convinced myself that Mom hated me and would be happy, that Dad would be sad for a bit, but I was just another mouth to feed in the end – he’d be better off, and my little brother would never remember me except through the cold looks in my parents eyes when the crossed a particular patch of our concrete drive way below the apex of our roof line. Death was all I wanted, all I deserved.
Romans 5:8 – God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
I bent my knees, just slightly, standing on the edge – snot dripping down my face, tears falling to the concrete – just a regular day, right? Mom walked out the door, and saw me on the roof, crying. She let me know she loved me, and told me lunch was inside whenever I was ready. I cried a bit more, climbed down and went on in – I’m not sure that she knew my intention, but she was there for a reason. School went on – I was a little less of a roller coaster, but the world isn’t that much better when it’s all dull, grey, and lifeless – so I can hardly say I’d improved. Even then though, looking back, God was beginning to call to me. I started writing songs then – which has continued until this day, in fact. I started recognizing the beauty in people, in things – which was a step up from where I’d been. I was looking forward to a retreat our youth group was going on that was coming up in April – in retrospect, I was looking forward to it with very good reason.
Romans 10:13 - Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Falls Creek – the name of the retreat – perhaps you’ve been there, who knows. My best friend’s father was speaking that year, he has a tendency to recycle sermons – I’d heard and could quote about half of the ones he was giving us at the retreat. “Sermon 4 with a twist into 7 there at the end” was the running joke for me. Yet, he is a very gifted speaker, and a very deep and intellectual Christian – despite my misgivings about his “green sermons.” Regardless, as he spoke, he eventually said something that rang true with me, something I had been patiently waiting for since that first time I’d been convinced I’d prayed enough to become a Christian. Something I’d been striving towards and fighting for without ever knowing it. In his big, excited, yelling pastoral voice, he pronounced that “Guys, if you’re a Christian, and you’re not living right, you’re going to be miserable” – it was sermon 6, not one of his overly evangelical ones, a little more geared towards discipleship. But suddenly, I realized the reality of my predicament – I was living by the rules. I should be at least somewhat happy. I was miserable. The truth finally came out – I wasn’t a Christian, it was the only solution that made sense. I was bound, gagged, and beaten by my own false belief in my Christianity. “The rules” weren’t rules at all – not to constrict as I had known them at least. The rules were freedom – they gave me the ability to do what was right, the ability to connect to my creator, the ability to finally become who I’d thought I was and been meant to be all along. My soul cried out for this, and despite all the lies I’d accepted, the truths I’d denied – the moment had come: I was called. Wanted. Loved.
Romans 10:9,10 - If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
That night, my world changed. All the things I’d used to fill the blackness inside were rendered completely and utterly irrelevant and insignificant. Grades, friends, girls, athleticism, rugged good looks – all useless and stripped bare for what they were – a poor substitute for what really mattered. Those things bring happiness – sure, but they don’t bring joy. They don’t bring the unerring knowledge that whatever happens, an infinite being cares for you. God took me in his hands that day and revolutionized me. My good days – he makes great. My mediocre days – he gives direction. My bad days – he gives purpose. One man died that all might live, and I have found my life, my true life, in him – and it is only the beginning of the story.