If I had to give my story a title, it would probably be something like “Gripped by the Gospel” or “Awakened to the Gospel.” Although, I would probably come up with a catchier word than awakened. Like many people I know, I grew up attending church with my family, thanking God for food, and enjoying the social aspects of being a “Christian.” You’ve never had a pot-luck until you’ve had a Minnesota Lutheran pot-luck. Hot-dishes (casseroles), salads (anything that may or may not contain jello, lettuce, fruit, vegetables, whip cream, and even candy), and bars (any dessert item cut into a square or rectangular shape) as far as the eye can see.
In my early life, that was my scope of faith. Sure, I believed in God. I did not doubt that He loved me and I routinely heard that Jesus died for my sins. I was also taught about all the rules God had for living, all the phrases that Christians should know, and had it modeled for me that God was to be acknowledged sometimes, but there were other times when He was not terribly important. As I got a little bit older I went on some mission trips, some youth group retreats, and attended a few conferences. In general, I probably “gave my life to Jesus” once or twice a year, for four or five years. I would ride a spiritual high for several weeks or even a month after returning from a youth group trip, but would routinely fall right back into the way I previously thought, spoke, and acted. I thought that was good enough. Compared to many other middle school and high school students, I was a great kid. I didn’t party, drink, do drugs, or have sex. Good enough, right?
Then, during my junior year of high school, two interesting things happened. First, I was invited by a group of friends to join a small group Bible study. I had been a part of other Bible study groups, but for some reason the truths that were taught there did not sink into my soul. This time, it was different. God did amazing work in those times as I learned and understood His Words in the Bible. The second thing that happened was more decisive. I was asked by another group of Christians (God was really working on me through many relationships) to help at an event where the Gospel of Jesus Christ would be shared. My role, along with many other high school students, would be to talk with and follow-up with those who responded to the Gospel message. That night is still very clear in my memory. As my friend, Jeff, shared a powerful testimony of how Jesus Christ reconciled sinful people to a loving, holy God through His death and resurrection, my heart was gripped. I had heard this message before, but that night was different. My heart was awakened to the Gospel. I understood true grace for the first time. The freeing truth that we can never be good enough and that God had made a way for us to be reunited with Him, despite our fallen condition, became like the chorus of a great song. It made me feel alive, it made me want to move, and it made me want to join in and sing.
To my surprise, not a single person verbally responded to the Gospel message that night. Those of us who were ready to follow-up with people sat there and waited. Afterwords, the youth pastor at my friends’ church, gathered us together, tried to encourage us, and led us in prayer for those who may have wanted to respond, but for some reason did not. All the while, God was working on my heart. As we said, “Amen” and headed out of the gym I turned to a friend walking next to me and said something like, “I don’t think I’ve ever really given my life to Jesus.” My friend was kind of shocked and said, “Oh…do you want to do that right now?” I said, “Yes.” So we sat down and I prayed. I admitted my sin to God, repented of it, turned toward Jesus, and asked God to help me live for Him.
Very soon after that night, I had little doubt that I was called to vocational ministry. After spending a few years bouncing back and forth, wondering if I was to serve inside or outside of the local church, God convicted me once and for all (at least I hope it was once and for all) that He was calling me to serve Him and His Bride, the Church. It is my joy to pastor, shepherd, counsel, lead, walk alongside of, and preach the Word of God in the church. There is nothing I would rather do!
Thanks for reading my story. Although, I have to tell you, it probably gives me more joy to tell than it gives you to read it. I pray that through it, you will not see me, but a sovereign and loving God, committed to pursuing you through Jesus Christ, who delights in awakening your heart to His truth, mercy, and grace. To Him be all glory forever!