I was privileged to be born to parents that are Christian, good and faithful Christians. A man and woman who put Christ first and instilled in me the sense that God loved me, wanted me, and that I needed that. The church that we were a part of was a Bible believing church. The preacher, the elders, the deacons and the women who were Sunday school teachers taught the Bible and at whatever level of understanding I was capable of.
When I was 9 ½ years old, I began to wonder to myself what I needed to do to be saved. I was sensing God’s call to me from what I had been taught and heard and saw from all those Christians and so I asked my Dad the night of December 31st, 1966, “What do I need to do to be saved?” He was studying for his Sunday school lesson and he slid everything to the side of the table except his Bible and he turned it toward me and opened it to the passages that would answer my question. Later, when I was in bed, I made a commitment to Christ and the next morning at church, I went forward confessed Christ and presented myself to be immersed for the forgiveness of my sins, to be saved.
My life has always involved the church. I’ve assembled with believers nearly every Sunday of my life. I have shared in classes and Bible studies of many kinds, heard and given loads of sermons, been involved in evangelistic efforts through the church and on a personal level as well as attended and helped with camps, conventions, and conferences. I’m even a Bible college graduate and church minister/pastor.
My faith has been a simple faith. I am not much of a deep thinker and never have been. I accept truth at face value. I believe there is a God and I believe in God. I know Christ came to earth and was crucified on a cross to pay for my sins. I am not just challenged by others to understand things at a deeper level, but I am challenged by them to be deeper in my faith and understanding. It’s not about the answers and we don’t have the answers to some questions, it’s about the whole grasp of truth and reality. I have a simple faith and my life has been deeply involved and entrenched in the church.
At a young age I knew I wanted to preach. I liked the idea of being in the pulpit sharing God’s word and encouraging Christians with the challenges of life and faith. That desire was God calling me to a life of service in which I could also fulfill the strongest spiritual gift God gave me, caring and compassion. I have spent days in hospitals with people and their families, spoken for a couple of hundred funerals including several tragic deaths (accident and murder victims). Being a preacher has opened more opportunities to show compassion than when I ran a Coca-Cola route, or managed McDonalds and a Bible college snack bar.
Even though my life has been deeply influenced by and involved with Christians my life hasn’t always been pure. Let’s just say, selfishness has crept in more often than I’d like to admit. Teen lust, a little dishonesty, and even some theft were a part of who I secretly was and there have been moments in my adult life when one or more these sins had control. Maybe that’s why some of the Godly and great things that have happened in my life took so long to come about; my sin delaying God’s response and God’s work in my life.
Here’s why. I have had a personal relationship with the church. The church as people! The church as institution! The church as nearly the whole of what Christianity is! My relationship with God and Christ has mostly been through church and because of church. Though a relationship with church is essential, when it replaces my personal relationship with God and Christ then it becomes more than it should.
Many times, too many to count, I have started and restarted to develop my relationship with God and Christ, but the cares of the world, the cares of family, the cares of church, boredom, lack of knowing how or where to begin or continue, or for whatever reason, my starts at a deeper relationship have fizzled out. Maybe the reasons are because I have a simple faith, without the depth of knowledge. I trust and obey. Is that enough? I know and am faithful. Am I growing? I read and study. Will I mature?
My journey has involved thousands of Sunday school lessons and Bible Studies to teach and learn; sermons and messages to convict and empower my thoughts and emotions; conferences, camps, and many other encounters to ignite and fan faith into flame. My parents, my grandmother, my teachers and professors, preachers and speakers, Christian friends, my wife, my kids, and many more are involved in my journey of faith.
Yet the first factor that has driven me to develop a deeper faith has been the troubling events involved in a church that is losing members and having to exercise church discipline with one who is causing dissention in the church, undermining people’s confidence in what they might benefit from in the church. Seeing these weaknesses in the church I serve is also opening my eyes to the weaknesses in my own faith and life.
I John, Romans 12, Ephesians 4 & 5 and other passages are key Biblical teaching for spiritual depth and growth, obedience and conviction, conversion and completeness in Christ Jesus! They are stretching my faith. They are putting me in a position to relate to God and Christ beyond saving faith and simple obedience.
Here is how it is being applied in my life. Various aspects of my ministry are changing. I have been involved in preaching ministry, youth ministry, youth conference ministry, camp ministry, hospital and nursing home and grief ministry, counseling ministry, and a handful of others ministry aspects over the past 30 years but there is one opportunity that God has opened to me, ministering to a teen residential facility. It’s sort of like a volunteer chaplaincy; working with teens that have been diagnosed with attachment disorder, emotional trauma and affect regulation leading to attachment issues.
Being a bi-vocational minister provided me the chance to be involved with these teens. I only worked as a residential coach there for eight months, but I’ve been able to volunteer for the past two and a half years, developing Sunday spiritual times as well as providing spiritual counseling. In the process I have encountered teens from various church backgrounds, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and Baptist. There are teens that are Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, and one that claimed his religion was paganism. There are also atheists and agnostics too.
How has this challenged me? Along with the problems the little fellowship of Christians I minister with which is pushing me to develop the depth of my relationship with God and Christ, ministering to these young people who are struggling with mental and emotional problems and spiritual issues and development has forced me to understand my faith more deeply, seeking answers for questions I have never considered personally. How to help the ones that have doubts about God find the reasonable and rational answers that can lead to faith in God, and the ones who are Christian but have a contemporary cultural aspect to their beliefs which differs from the Bible’s teaching, helping teens that are gender-confused learn what God says about them and his plans for them has broadened my need to know my Heavenly Father and my Savior more relationally.
One of the actual goals I set for my life has been that people will see the presence of God in me. As of late I am learning that people are seeing God’s presence through me, especially among these teens. If I know God, if I know Christ, and my relationship with them continues to grow, these teens, my church, and all the people I minister too will see God even more in my life.