I was four years old when I knelt down beside my mom and prayed for forgiveness for my sins. She led me in a prayer in which I told Jesus I would “trust” and “serve” Him forever. As I prayed I realized I had just signed up to “serve” God forever, which sounded like a big commitment, and a little like slavery. Mom said to go tell my brothers about my new faith so I ran into the next room and told my oldest brother I did not want to be a Christian anymore. I imagined that Christians are slaves, for some reason I thought slaves were bald, and since I did not want to be bald, I thought maybe I should not be a Christian. Despite my confusion, my brother told me Christians are not slaves, so I kept on believing. My conversion was a simple prayer and commitment to Jesus.
My father was a pastor at our home church in Estes Park Colorado and my parents raised me in a Christian home. My faith was real, but childlike. I tried hard to be squeaky clean to please God, so much so that I became legalistic. In other words, I always felt like I had to act perfectly in order to please God, which led to me obsessing over my sins and feeling guilty much of the time. I understood with my mind that God loved me and had already forgiven me, but not with my heart. I believed in the concept of God’s grace, which is a free gift we cannot earn, but I still tried hard to earn it anyways by always trying to do the right thing.
Pretty soon all my effort wore me out and I turned 180 degrees. I threw away God’s rules so that I could live life my way instead of His. I was about 15 years old when my “good Christian friends” and I began to party. We got drunk, looked at porn, and we did it in our parent’s homes without them knowing. Looking back at it now, I was abusing God’s grace.
Shortly after I turned 17 years old, it looked like my friends and I were about to get caught. At first, I tried to lie my way out of the situation. But I couldn’t. I was so overwhelmed with guilt and shame that I knew I had to come clean. I told my youth pastor and together we decided to tell my dad. My dad forgave me, and so did my mom, and so did my friend’s parents and a church elder when my dad made my friends and I sit in a room and tell them what we’d done.
My friends were less forgiving. But even as I lost those relationships, I discovered a new relationship with God. He set me free from my guilt, covered me with grace, and gave me hope by reminding me of a Bible verse, Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (NASB95)
God so transformed me with this experience that I began sharing Jesus with others, writing online devotionals, and pouring myself into Bible study. It was time to start again, this time in God’s grace.
In college I continued to share my faith with others and grow in my knowledge of Jesus’ love for me. One day my college pastor suggested that I should consider going to seminary to become a pastor. The idea made me happy, but I wasn’t ready. I graduated, moved to my new financial job in McLean Virginia, found a great church and loving community, and began to start a new life. But I soon felt God had a different career in mind for me.
The following summer I traveled home to talk with my dad about going to seminary to become a pastor. That weekend God confirmed my call. He did it on the exact same date that eighteen years before I had knelt down and told Jesus I wanted to “trust” and “serve” him forever.
Later that year I moved to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton Massachusetts, where I met my beautiful wife Monica. She is a grace-person, which is exactly what I need. We graduated, I got hired with Immanuel Church in Chelmsford before God called us to help start a new church in Westford.
If you too struggle with feeling like you can’t please God, or are secretly partying behind your parent’s backs, please come talk with me after the service. I’d love to tell you about grace. Thank you.