It started with a prayer I made 5 years ago to God. It was the morning before the finals of the county tennis tournament. I asked God that if He would let my son Michael win the tournament, I would share my testimony (how I came to Christ) with my church.
Yes, I know conditional prayers are wrong. They test God. They show a lack of trust and faith in His plan. But, I did it anyway.
God answered my prayer immediately. It took me 5 years to uphold my end and I’m sure He knew it would. At the time, our church had various people sharing their “walk with Christ” as part of an ongoing campaign. Our pastor asked me if I would and I think I told her that I’d pray about it.
As a child, I always believed in a God. I also believed that there was a man called Jesus Christ. That was about the extent of my faith. From my time going to church, I knew many of the Bible stories. God was this dude up in the sky I would talk to, ask favors of, and all too often, use His name in vain. I never considered what He did for me or cared about my responsibilities as one of His children. It didn’t matter. I was basically a good kid and there was always time to sort things out.
I went through a period late in my high school years where I started meditating. I was heavily influenced by a rock band whose main songwriter would cite from ancient Hindu sanskrits. I was captivated. It made sense to me, it was good stuff, but one day something hit me. I remember the day like it was yesterday. A simple thought erupted in my mind. Really? Is this what life is all about? It just wasn’t the answer for me. I stopped following that brand of faith that day.
For many years after, I partied and lived a life devoted to myself. Sure it was fun but it never got me anywhere. Luckily, God planted people in my life who would chip away at my hard shell of disbelief and narcissism. These people have led me, challenged me, pointed me towards God, but more importantly, through their actions, words, or influence, introduced me to the greatest gift, God’s love – Jesus Christ. As a friend once told me, God reveals His truth one layer at a time.
Scott, one of my best friends from childhood, had a huge influence on my life. We spent most of our teen, and early adult years surfing together in pursuit of the perfect wave. He is one of the kindest, most generous people on this planet. Scott’s dad, “Tal” was probably the first person to unravel one of God’s layers for me. Tal was an awesomely unique, creative, and brilliant man. He was also a minister. One day, while listening to some music that was undoubtedly too loud, he asked if we ever listened to the words of Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel. He told us how the lyrics have a lot of spiritual meaning and references to Jesus Christ. It’s probably been 30+ years since I first heard that song, and to this day, it still blows me away.
Enter my wife Jennie. We met our Junior year in college. After a few months, it was time to meet the parents. Jennie’s family was a lot more religious than mine. It even bothered me at the time that Jennie was such a regular at church, as if there was something wrong with that. Jennie’s quiet faith and her beautiful soul brought me closer to Christ without me knowing it. Her mom Jody, on the other hand, was much more outspoken with her faith. She would challenge me with endless questions about my beliefs. There was no doubt about how she felt – about anything. But there was nothing superior or condemning about her. If I gave her a lame answer like whatever or I’m not sure, she would push me to have an opinion. Grace was part of every dinner and church was part of every Sunday. She strongly encouraged me to be my best, to be true to God and myself, and to raise our children as Christians. Jennie and I didn’t have a home church and were not attending church regularly when Jody was suffering from terminal cancer. It still amazes me that she clinged to life long enough to see Michael baptized in her own home. Another layer.
A few years into the “real world”, not the one on MTV, I was working in Columbia. I quickly became friends with a co-worker named John. We didn’t have a lot in common and nothing about our pasts were similar, but there was something unflappable about him. John is one of those people who like everyone. I never heard a negative or critical remark out of his mouth. He was the youngest guy in our office, so he was sometimes the whipping post for teasing. One day, he asked if I wanted to join his friend and him in a lunch time talk. Turns out their lunch talks were about Christ, the Bible, and all things related. Oh boy, when I heard about this, the fangs came out. We frequently ridiculed them about their “Sermons on the mount”. John, being John, took it all in stride. He would smile and say, “that’s alright Bob, I know someday you’ll understand.” Eventually, I was laid off and a year later, the company closed our department. After a short time, we lost touch.
One afternoon at Panera Bread, I heard someone calling my name. I looked around and saw this strangely familiar face. I couldn’t believe it. It had been 20 years! John looks exactly as I remembered him. We talked for an hour or more. I told him how my life has changed, how I’ve come to Christ. I apologized for my past behavior. John didn’t recall my criticisms. Maybe he truly didn’t remember or maybe he was just being John. He laughed and said, “I guess that’s just how God works.” Yet another layer.
It was Tuesday morning around 10:00 am when I saw the first tower collapse. The New York City skyline was a view I had seen countless times as a child. We would drive up into the hills on weekend nights just to enjoy NYC in lights. It was bad enough seeing the horror and mayhem of the attack on September 11th. When I saw the tower collapse, something struck me like a brick on my head. The Pentagon was attacked; two of the largest buildings in the world had crumbled. I realized then, that no one guaranteed my safety. Something as secure and real as my childhood memories had been destroyed. Vaporized. Humankind wasn’t my protector and certainly not my savior. The plans for my life and my family were no longer ensured by man, but by God. I don’t know why 3,000 people had to die that day. I only know that on that day, my faith went to God and my Savior, His son, Jesus Christ.
The next week, we had a memorial service at Trinity. I was asked to be one of the readers. I had never done a single reading in our church in our 8 years as members there. But this was different. Something passed through me as I read from Revelation.
“‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Out of the blue, a friend from our congregation who I didn’t know that well, commended me on the reading. She told me that the words reassured her. She knew it was my first reading. As I said, something passed through me, as if it wasn’t me reading.
A good friend invited me to participate in a men’s Christian retreat called Emmaus. It’s a concentrated 4-day event focused on brotherhood, worship, singing, and strengthening your relationship with Jesus Christ. I was too self-conscious and insecure at the time, so put it off for a few years. As Michael was talking to a large crowd at the closing ceremony of the youth version of Emmaus (Chrysalis), it dawned on me that my children were not afraid to push the envelope. That it is good to share our faith. That we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Michael’s example brought me to Emmaus.
Skip ahead a few years…
On a cold in November night, I awoke on the bathroom floor. Apparently, I had passed out. Even though I felt fine, Jennie made me go the hospital. With an IV in my arm, I remember lying on the hospital bed holding Jennie and Jordan’s hands. I didn’t know what was wrong or if it was a serious condition. I was scared but I remember thinking that, if this is how things have to be, I was grateful that God had blessed me with such a perfect, beautiful family. Once again, I realized that I was not in control of my life, no one controlled my life. Only God. I surrendered to His will and instantly felt calmer.
Jordan’s faith is much like Jennie’s. She doesn’t outwardly display her belief in Christ; she shows it with how she lives. She treats people the way she wants to be treated. She radiates light and love. Our father-daughter thing is running together. We share stories, convictions, fears, and tribulations. Her compassion and sincerity for others has had a profound effect on my life. This is the way that Jesus told us to live our lives. It’s an awesome thing when your children bring you closer to God.
If God brings us to His son, it’s because it’s God’s plan. God uses people in our lives to help us come into this relationship. My faith testimony is dedicated to my friend Matt. He is the friend who told me that God reveals truths a layer at a time. He is also my friend who sponsored me at Emmaus. Neither one of us were very Christian people growing up. In roundabout ways, Matt subtlety corrects me when I need correcting. He reads everything and frequently shares his faith knowledge with me. I’ve told him that he should be a Pastor because he has such an incredible grasp of the Scripture. Most of all, Matt reminds me that we have an obligation as God’s children to live a Christian life.
As Michael embarked upon his mission trip, I was a wreck. Matt and I talked and prayed at our Meditation Chapel. Matt’s thought was that Michael was doing God’s work and that God would look after his group. After seeing Michael’s group CTI 14:21 this March, I was almost moved to tears. All members of this group were exactly where they needed to be at this point in their lives.
God does provide. God blesses. God uses us to bring people closer to him. I’m far from perfect and still a fallen sinner. But I feel renewed every day by the second chance I’ve been given by Jesus’s sacrifice. I love my church because of the people that fill the room. I’ve done a few things as a member of Trinity Lutheran church, but the biggest accomplishment, thanks to the members of TLC, is grown closer to my Savior.
Thanks be to God,