My whole life I missed what God wanted, and what the cross was all about. I never understood that God actually wants a relationship with us. That is why I find a testimony so important; it shares how we have come to a relationship with Christ. The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I am convinced the Gospel is summarized in two passages, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. . . And this is eternal life, that they know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 3:16, John 17:3).
I suppose my testimony begins the year I was entering Jr. High-school. That summer my best friend died of an asthma attack. I transferred middle schools more than I could count, sank into a depression, had social anxiety, and by high-school I was completely awkward around people. I started skipping school regularly and sophomore year I was sent to Topeka’s “Hope Street Academy” AKA “You are not cutting it in regular school.” My grades were terrible and I grew academically apathetic, craved attention, and became resentful. Then junior year I dropped out of school.
Life was pretty cool, I did… nothing… and woke up around 2 P.M. every day. Then one day I had a thought, “Is this what I am going to do my whole life?” That thought sparked action and I obtained a GED. Since High school dropouts are not a hot commodity my options were limited, so I enrolled in Junior College. To the surprise of many, I actually graduated. During my time at Allen County Community College the war in Iraq escalated. When I actually put effort into my school, I fell in love with history, which peaked my interest in the military.
If you would have asked me as a kid, I would have told you I was a Christian. I could check the blocks, I went to church sometimes, believed in Jesus, and tried to be good. Yet in my heart there was never assurance. To top it off, I rarely felt like God answered my prayers. But this night the answer was so clear, I couldn’t deny that God was answering me. I was in my room, and I simply asked, “God, do you want me to join the military.” I knew that He was speaking to me, but it was only one word in my mind. Yes. It was the first time in my life I knew it was God, there was no doubt at all. I wouldn’t experience this again until I gave my life to Christ in Iraq.
After getting out of basic training I became a sinner. I am not saying I wasn’t one before, I am just saying I didn’t see myself as one. Sexual immorality, drunkenness… I mean if I really wanted to I could make quite the list, and I could share stories that I still regret. But the point is this, I was in a dark place and I knew it.
Paul pretty much summed up where I was at, “So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies” (Romans 1:24). One way we can know that we have taken sin too far is we don’t have guilt when we do it. That’s where I was. I didn’t even feel bad about my choices anymore. I would wake up the next day and joke with my buddies about the decisions of the previous night. God handed me over to my sins. I was about as far from God as it gets, and it was at this point I deployed.
The army has rules about what materials you are allowed to have on deployment. Certain materials are banned, but many of us had them. My sin was still a joke, and my life was just fine. But everything changed because of one song I accidentally downloaded. In Iraq I started working out since there is pretty much nothing else to do. I was tired of my workout music so I got on my roommates computer.
I only downloaded a few songs, but a MercyMe album ended up on my Mp3 player. I didn’t realize it until I was walking to the gym later. As I was walking a new song came on, it started with a good beat so I kept listening. When the lyrics began I realized it was about God. I reached down to change it, but stopped. I just kept listening. As I listened, I looked up at the moon and the one star next to it. Then I started thinking about who put those there.
Not too long after that night we were beginning to pack for our return home. Everything that we didn’t have immediate need of was placed in our footlockers, which went home early. That song had sparked some serious thoughts on my mind. As I sat there packing my footlocker I looked at the pornography on the table and began a conversation with myself. Word for word, this is what I said, “I have always said I believe in this God, but I’ve never looked for Him on my own. If I am going to do this, I can start now. I will throw that away, and for the rest of the deployment I’ll just read my bible and see for myself.”
For the first time in my life, I decided to pursue God in faith. What had kept me from God wasn’t my sin, it was my lack of faith. I had only pursued Him casually, which isn’t faith at all. As I read the Scripture in faith, things I had never thought of before were becoming clear. The stories were hitting my heart and I knew I needed a savior. Then I read one parable that hit a little close to home:
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a sinner. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed this way: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, thieves, unjust, adulterers, or even like this sinner, I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the sinner, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
On break that night I found a quiet spot and I prayed for forgiveness. I didn’t look up because I knew that I was the sinner in the story. In the middle of Iraq, in a pitch black corner of post, I experienced another first. I felt the fear of God. I was afraid of God because for the first time I realized exactly what I deserved. Nobody told me I deserved wrath, God didn’t even tell me that, but I knew it. I still know it.
Now I understand what I failed to see for so long. My faith in Jesus has resulted in a personal relationship with God, which is what He wanted all along. He has been a father, a marriage counselor, a guide, and provider. He has spoken to me through the bible, pastors, books, other believers, and music. He has spoken to me about sins in my life, and ministries to be in. His love for me inspires me to obey Him. This is the reason we live in Ogden, this is the reason we work with youth, and this is the reason both Quinn and I have given up our careers to be here. Love wins.