The team I am a part of has spent the better part of the past year developing an initiative that we have recently released focused on Discipleship – following Christ and compelling others to do the same.
Check it out here if you are interested in learning more.
The reason I bring it up is because about half of the content is focused on our ability to share not only what Christ has done in our lives (my story of grace) but the overall story of grace (our redemption and restoration to God and His Kingdom). As I was preparing to write out my grace story in the Discipleship workbook, I thought it would be best to not only write it out but post it here so those who do read things I write will have a better understanding of who I am and what I am motivated by – a desire to see those around me take a step closer to Christ no matter where they are. I am going to make every effort to keep it succinct, but this likely will be a longer post, so buckle up!
I am one of those people that can’t remember what life was like prior to knowing about Christ. I grew up in a Christian home. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but we were given a decent grounding in faith. I can’t remember my parents ever really being together, so me and my younger brother and sister grew up in a single parent home with occasional contact with my father (long and complicated story, but some seasons were more regular than others). My mom did her best to care for us and try to raise us, but she certainly didn’t have it easy. We didn’t have much, but our immediate needs were always met and I know she sacrificed much to make that happen.
I was always told to rely on God as my father. That was hard to do because I didn’t have a good picture of what that even looked like from an earthly perspective, let alone a spiritual one. We faithfully went to church every Sunday and were involved in plenty of educational/teaching environments that gave me a good knowledge base, but I didn’t know how to translate that into a relationship. As with most kids, I lacked discipline and real guidance in how to seek God on my own. I knew some things about Him, but I didn’t really know Him. I remember as a pre-teen saying a prayer that I really did mean, but it didn’t magically result in relationship. I took a step closer to God in that moment (as well as many other moments throughout my life), but I still didn’t know how to have a relationship with someone I couldn’t see, let alone the creator of everything!
For the most part, I stayed out of trouble as a teenager. I made plenty of mistakes, but for the most part I knew what kind of behavior was expected of me. I tried to live a life that seemed good, but below the surface I was not good at all. I had (and still deal with) a whole lot of selfishness which presented itself as anger, lust and pride. I am leaving out a ton of details for the sake of time, but as a teenager I learned how to manage a false front – look good on the outside, but often conflicted on the inside.
My wife, Donna, and I met at church when we were 12 years old (she was born five days before me – although seeing her, you would think I was far older!). We “dated” for a little while, but remained friends throughout our teen years. We didn’t attend the same school (which was probably a good thing), but would see each other at our youth group and sometimes on Sunday. She had a fairly serious relationship throughout high school, so we didn’t spend much time together. Through a series of events, we re-connected the summer before I went off to college and started dating again. Within two years (and a lot of ups and downs) we had married (yes, we were VERY young) and started my career with a company that gave me great opportunities to develop professionally and helped me finish school while working full time. Within a few years of being married, our daughter, Aurora, was born. Donna and I both believed in God, attended church regularly, served in and through the church. We were even in a small group, but we didn’t really have a real relationship with Christ. We were involved for the wrong reason. Instead of our engagement in the church being driven by our love for Christ, it was more about what was expected of us. We would probably be there still if it wasn’t for a series of events that led to our realizing what we were missing this entire time: pursuing relationship with God.
I took an assignment with my employer at the time that moved our family to Chicago from Buffalo. We were there for nearly two years before the same employer moved me back to Buffalo. We met some incredible friends while there, grew together as a couple and enjoyed living in a big city. My son, Aidan, was even born there! Even so, it was a difficult transition. My job was quite demanding and I enjoyed working a little too much (some would say I was a borderline workaholic), so my wife was left to fend for herself quite a bit. In short, she didn’t want to be there.
In hindsight though, we thank God we were there because we realize the best part of our move to Chicago was the spiritual journey we began while there.
We began attending a strong Bible-teaching church and were challenged to seek God relationally by spending time in His word, in prayer and with His people. Our pastor at the time made it clear that a relationship with God is like other relationships in life and we need to spend time with Him to know Him better. For the first time in my life, I took a serious step toward growing closer to God and began reading the Bible regularly and using my long commute time to pray. At the same time, Donna was being challenged similarly and we began to grow together spiritually. When we were asked to move back to Buffalo for a new assignment, the one thing that caused us to hesitate (outside of our great friends there) was the church we were a part of. We were afraid that we would fall back into the same complacent faith that we had before. We realized at that point that it was our responsibility to ensure that didn’t happen. This represents another step I took closer to Christ – owning my faith.
At this point, I would be failing you if I didn’t take a moment to explain what I mean by my “faith”. I believe that God has provided a means for my salvation through Jesus Christ. This implies that I need to be saved from something – my sin. Although I am a pretty good guy (hopefully you agree!), I have a sin nature and so does every other human. Scripture says in Romans 3:10-12, 23 that no one is inherently good and that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This sin nature is evident in all people (Romans 5:12) and we deserve punishment as a result (Romans 6:23). There is nothing I can do to earn, merit or deserve God’s acceptance because my heart is the problem, not just my actions. But here is the good news, Romans 5:8 says that even though we were sinners, Christ died for us. If I humbly believe in my heart that Christ’s sacrifice was necessary for me (Romans 10:9-10) and I am willing to give Him lordship over my life (Romans 10:13), He will honor that request and stand in the gap for me. In short, God sees His righteousness in my place. I believe that I have a need for a savior and that Christ met that need for me. In turn, I willingly give Him lordship of every aspect of my life. I choose to trust in and follow Christ – turning my allegiance from myself to God in order to give Him glory, not me. And that decision results in my desire to seek Him regularly (follow Christ) and to compel others to do the same.
So, you may be asking – how did you end up working at a church?
Great question! I never imagined it would happen and thought I was going to retire from the company I worked for. God had different plans though…
Upon moving back to Buffalo, we connected with a local church and started to serve again and spend time with others who were serious about growing in their faith. After a few years, I was asked to get more involved in men’s ministry. I helped to develop a training program to equip guys that needed a firm grounding in the basics of their faith. I had no business doing it, but in helping to put this together and, subsequently, teach it, I learned a lot about the power and value of small groups and discipleship. I had other guys in my life that were helping to strengthen me, hold me accountable and encourage me toward God’s best. This was a great season in my life – I was growing in my faith, looking for opportunities to share my faith and seeing growth in areas of my life that I had struggled with. My job was going well and I was on a track toward senior management in a global company. That’s when my career path took an unplanned turn through a conversation with the leadership in the church I was a part of.
After about nine months of processing through the possibility of working anywhere else, I landed in a place saying “how could I not?” This was another step closer to Christ for me (and my family) – I was trusting Him fully in this decision; going from a place of comfort to an unknown. In retrospect, I can look back and see how I was being prepared to take on the role I have today with every experience given me by my previous employer. I can also look back and say that I am grateful that I took that step in faith. In all honesty, I’m not qualified to do my job. As such, the role I have requires me to rely on God to fill the gaps daily. If I could comfortably fulfill the role I have on my own, there is limited room for God in that. I am also growing daily in my understanding of God’s intent for the church and a desire to see everyone, wherever they are, take a step closer to Christ. Not to mention, the personal satisfaction that comes with your job being something you are passionate about is priceless and I thank God for the opportunity often!
Another area where I and my family have taken a step closer to Christ is in our decision to foster children in need in our community. If you want to read more, see some of my previous posts on this topic: Caring for the Defenseless and How Fostering Continues to Shape Me Spiritually
There is so much to say, but I feel this at least will give most readers a fairly good idea of the path that I have been on throughout my life. I’ve had to ask tough questions and walk through difficult situations over the years and have seen God continue to be faithful time and again. My prayer and hope is that I will continue to grow in my spiritual formation, thereby continuing to shape this same story.
Stay tuned…I plan to finish well!
If you read this and have questions related to what it means to have faith in Christ, I welcome you to reach out to me directly.