Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Testimony

At 50 MPH, I had just driven through an intersection, and then a screeching blast hit me at my side.  My SUV began to flip.  Instinctively I yelled, “JESUS.”  The windshield glass now on the roof, my heart still racing, I hung upside down by my seatbelt.  I tried to open the car door, but it was jammed against the street pavement.  Within minutes paramedics pried me out.  To my surprise there wasn’t a scratch on me.  Later I found out those paramedics had been off-duty and so happened to be driving right behind me, just before coming to my aid.  The roof of the passenger’s side of my SUV was completely crushed in, and the paramedics told me had the car flipped the other way, I would’ve been dead.  Just the night before I had taken communion at my church.  After the wreck I believed God had saved me, and I promised myself I would live for Him the rest of my life.  

It’s Hard Out There for a PK
It’s true what they say about pastor’s kids in that sometimes we have the hardest time living for God.  Growing up in my parent’s church, I didn’t have many friends my own age, so I made most of my friends playing on the football team.  While my team went out for dinner at Hooters, I remember almost being brought to tears because my parents forced me to stay home.  To me, Christianity was a long list of things I was not allowed to do.  Outside of my parents I didn’t have much Christian influence.  Christ calls a Christian to influence the world, but the world was influencing me.  In high school, I was more concerned with being cool than I was with being a Christian.  There were short stints I was on fire for God when I attended church camp, but the fire soon turned into a glimmer as I fell back into lukewarm Christianity.  The Bible says sin separates us from God, and I began to miss His everyday cues. 

What god?
When I got to college many of my professors said there was no god.  Soon I really began to wonder if there was in fact a god.  If god did exist, how could I be sure it was the God the Christians say He is?  For a while I looked everywhere for that answer—studying atheist philosophy and eastern religions—I looked everywhere but church.  What started as a sincere quest for an answer left me wondering if I could be certain of anything.  I became a relativist: what is true for you and true for me are both true because there is not absolute truth.  Truly, I believed in nothing.  
I couldn’t find an answer to my question so I quit looking and reverted to hedonism.  I thought the point of life should be that I live it up partying and drinking, making money by whatever means, and trying to be popular.  I began to lift weights long hours every day and I bought expensive clothes I couldn’t afford on a college budget to try to impress people.  My self-esteem became entirely wrapped up in my image.  I was the guy tagged in all the Facebook drinking photos with what looked to be my friends, but most of them were actually people I barely knew.  I wondered if any of those guys truly had my back if and when I needed them.  “Who could I trust?” I wondered.  On the surface my mouth was smiling; inside my heart was bleeding.  I felt so alone.  I remember lying lethargically in my bed after a heavy weekend of drinking, asking “God, where are you?”

Open Heart Surgery
Philosopher Blaise Pascal says, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.  Everything else I’d tried to fill the hole with had been swallowed—nothing fit. 
            One afternoon I worked out with a new friend, Andy, and I said, “Bro, you should go out and get drunk with us tonight.”  Andy said assuredly in not so many words that getting wasted wasn’t his thing.  Puzzled, I pried, “Why is that?”  Andy explained that he hadn’t done that since he’d become a Christian.  Now Andy always had a graceful demeanor, content and at peace with who he was.  He had something intangible about him, an X factor, which I lacked but I wanted.  Somehow I didn’t quite yet associate any of these attributes with his faith. 
Thankfully my parents never quit praying for me.  When I was home from college one weekend, they convinced me to go with them to church, and they introduced me to an older woman by the name of ‘Lady J’.  She grabbed my arms, looked up at me insistently, and made me promise I’d visit her son-in-law and daughter’s church in Austin, TX., the city where I was going to college at the University of Texas.  I wasn’t sure if I would keep my promise until one Sunday morning I walked into that church, my mind already made up that I was tired of my life the way it was.  I remember deciding that I was just going to try it, not sinning anymore, and see if I felt any better about my life.  At the time, all I understood was that I felt safe at church and I was a little more at peace with myself when I tried to live morally. 
Still, however, morality alone didn’t satisfy my question: is there a god?  If so then how do I know it’s a Christian god?  Initially, I reasoned, “Well if there is a God and I profess Christianity then I escape hell and get to go to heaven.  If there is not a god and I profess Christianity and there is not a heaven or hell then I haven’t really lost anything.”  Plus, not believing in anything had made my life miserable.  “My life sucks, sure, I’ll be a Christian.  My name is already ‘Christian’ anyway!”  Around this time a friend of mine lent me a book, A Case For Christ by Lee Strobel, a former Chicago journalist and spiritual skeptic who initially set out to disprove God but did just the opposite when as he interviewed Christian Apologists around the world.  My reading led me to believe that there are smart Christians who can defend Christian philosophy.  The historical accounts, Greek Manuscripts, and Dead Sea Scrolls provided me strong evidence that Jesus Christ is in fact Who He claimed to be.  Ultimately my decision became one of faith, to which the Bible says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  I chose to believe.   It was not the end of my learning, or my doubt for that matter, but it was a good starting point.  My mind was now open, but my heart was still hurting. 
God had to perform open-heart surgery on me.  My mantra became a quote from the Hall of Fame Coach John Wooden who said, “Oh Lord, make me beautiful within.”  I asked God to help me care less about looking like I was something special on the outside because I needed God to help me want to be something special on the inside.  God was trying to show me humility.  I began to read my Bible and I became aware of my complete depravity.  I was a filthy sinner, and there was no point in being moral for morality’s sake because I could never be good enough. 
By this time I knew that I was supposed to try and help others know Jesus, but I didn’t know how to do that effectively because I could barely help myself.  I had repented of my old life of living in sin, but I was still struggling with it, and every time I did sin I feared I was hanging at the end of my rope, about to fall back into the old life.  All too often I dwelled on the guilt I felt rather than the grace God had already given.
One Sunday I went up to the altar at my church, I lifted up my hands and I began to pray.  You may ask if that is that really that big of a deal.  For me it was.  If someone has a gun to your head, then sticking your hands up is the universal sign of submission.  Me raising my hands was my way of submitting to God.  This was a turning point for me because, actually, I had never felt freer.  I experienced the presence of God and I released everything to Him: the guilt of my past, the doubt I was currently struggling with, and the uncertainly of my future.  One of my favorite songs is by Hillsong United, which goes, “So I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned, In awe of the One who gave it all, So I’ll stand, my soul Lord to You surrendered, All I am is Yours.”  At the time, all I understood was that by worshipping God I felt like I had a heart transplant.  I was a new person, and it was beautiful.   Now, I understand that I was finally doing what God had always called me to do.  Praise is what I do in response to the One I owe it all to.  Praise is a way to say thank you.  Two thousand years ago, Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins so I wouldn’t have to.  God’s grace is a gift and there was nothing I could do to deserve it or earn it, but I can certainly praise Him for it.  Being a Christian no longer meant just abiding by a philosophy, now it was also personal.  It was no longer religion; it was a relationship.
God was doing wonderful things in my life, but I still thought, “Everyone I know has seen the sinful life I lived, so who would ever want to hear about Jesus from me?”  Breaking myself from this mentality was a slow process, but eventually I joined Andy’s Bible study, I began listening to Black Gospel Music, I started praying everyday, and I made new friends.  
Around this time I befriended my associate pastor, Mitch and his wife, Brandy.  In those times I thought about skipping church, without fail, Brandy would text me to keep me coming.  Just about every Wednesday night after church they would take me out to eat and talk with me about Jesus.  Their generosity surprised me.  That Christmas they gave me a book, “Sun Stand Still” by Steven Furtick.  I read it over Christmas break and one line fundamentally transformed my thinking: “There's a difference between standing in hope and walking in faith.”  Standing in hope will not bring the vision God has given me to pass, nor will it yours.  For too long I allowed my fear to win.  Fear is the opposite of faith.  In fear you’re paralyzed, but in faith you’re proactive.  Like me you can be hopeful and also stagnant, but faith doesn’t diminish God’s will to divine chance: “If it’s going to happen it will happen.”  No, faith is a course of action to take what God has already given you.  Even when fear sets in to cripple you, walking by faith entails that we listen for God’s voice, obeying Him every step of the way.  My fear would have me believe that I can’t do anything, but by faith I can do all things according to God’s will.  God radically changed my heart, so I asked myself, “What better testament to God’s glory is there than me?”

Second Wind
My senior year in college I took a couple of technical writing and poetry classes and I thought, “I want to try my hand at this.”  That year I also began training for a half marathon.  While doing so I’d become extremely fatigued, but I learned that if I persevered I would get what runners call a second wind.  I could keep going, and be even stronger than when I started.  Eventually I made the connection that long distance running is like our everyday walk with God.  Everyday struggles, doubts, fears and apathy can cripple Christians from the greater life God is beckoning us to.  Each day we need a renewing in the Holy Spirit to keep running strong.  Isaiah 40:31 says, “They will run and not grow weary.”  God had given me a second wind, and what He did for me He can also do for you.  If we decide to keep moving forward, only then do we get a second wind, and it takes us places we never could have imagined.
            In the summer of 2010 I sporadically text messaged a couple of my friends and family members a devotional with a quote, my analysis and Bible verse.  I thought that if I needed to be reminded of God’s promise on my life then they probably did to.  In August of 2011, I decided I wanted to do this consistently and for more people, so I began a blog, “Second Wind.”  I have attested to God’s glory ever since, in effect many lives have been encouraged through it and the blog is growing via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter by the day.  I may not be a mega church pastor of ten thousand, but I can get to work right now and to be a savvy social networker with a couple hundred.  I may not have a microphone, but I have a Mac Book.  Ask yourself: What has God given you? Whom can you influence?  You may not have money, but you have time.  The Bible says that if we are faithful in the small things then God will make us rulers over many.  Often what we fail to realize is that the small things are actually bigger than we think.  God is helping me be faithful in the SMALL things, and I believe that God has greater things ahead as I run the race He has set for me.
I see now that God orchestrated events as well as people to bring me closer to Him.  Almost three years ago upon just coming to God I wrote out my testimony in a Facebook note and tagged my Christian network of friends that I thought had all but given up on me.  Many of you commented by encouraging me, and words can hardly express how much this meant to me.  Ten years ago I would not have been able to do that, but because of advances in technology, God was able to use a social network to bless me.   
To my family: Dad, Mom, Nina, Lindsey, Annelissa and Sophia—thank you for loving and supporting me no matter what.  Pastor Rex Johnson, the best part about coming to church every Sunday was having you greet me with a smile; and Pastor Bret Jones, our talks after church meant the world to me.  God has also filled my life with many true friends who are there to constantly encourage me in the ways of the Lord.   All of y’all keep me running strong.  

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