Thursday, August 28, 2008

Answering my friend's question...

Since joining Facebook in May of 2008, I've reconnected with dozens of people from high school and college. Each reconnect is interesting because they all knew me before I became a follower of Jesus. My life has changed so dramatically since then that during these reconnections I'm compelled to talk about it.

One renewed friendship is with a girl I used to date in high school. I was a total shit to her back then, and she has some understandable bad memories of me. After hearing about how my life had changed, she asked me how/why I would devote my life totally to God. I've included my very long answer to her question. Hopefully we can continue to dialog about it together from afar. She lives in Arizona.

Here it is:

Okay, I'm going to do my best to answer some of your questions. I certainly don't think you're being disrespectful by asking me to talk about my faith.
It's best if we go back to the beginning so I can set the context for you. At different points I'm going to quote passages from the Bible.

My stuff from high school continued when I went to college. I pursued music, sex and drugs/alcohol all with equal passion. Eventually I was taking drugs most days of the week (primarily dope and shrooms). It had wrecked a lot of my relationships, including my relationship with Christina (my wife now). I had grown up going to church every week, and even went during college most Sundays with my parents. I knew a good deal of the stories of the Bible and knew who God was and who Jesus was. My problem was is that I didn't believe much if any of what I had heard, and it had almost no impact on my life.

So my life went on like that until my senior year in college. My senior year was pretty difficult. My drug use and stupid behavior was reaching it's apex, and after years & years of thinking that I was going to teach music and play music professionally, I decided to walk away with no real plans for what to do next. I was asking a lot of questions and I was becoming more and more discontented with where my life was heading. Now, one thing that my church experience had given me was a healthy concept of feeling guilty over my choices. My parents had that number down cold. So I had all this unrest and guilt in my heart with no idea how to manage it. I had briefly become involved with a Christian ministry on campus (Hope Fellowship), but I didn't stick around because for the most part no one seemed to have any real interest in me. My reputation certainly preceded me.

Anyway, during this time that I started asking questions, I began meeting these people at AU who were involved with The Navigators. These guys were the first people I'd had ever met whose faith seemed genuine--it made a visible impact on their lives. God was real to them, He spoke to them and directed theirs lives (according to them). But of course I thought that I would never be able to have what they had because of all the bad stuff I was into. It was also at this time that I started thinking more about Jesus and the whole issue of His dying on the Cross to "save me from my sins". This of course I had heard growing up in church and also from my new friends, but I had systematically rejected the whole idea. Deep down I knew that I was holding Jesus at arm's length, and I just didn't want to give someone else control of my life. The Bible teaches that, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Isaiah 59:2 says, "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear." I thought a lot about this idea of my sin--I had plenty of sins to choose from in my life. And I definitely felt like there was a great distance between God and myself. I looked at the lives of my new friends and I saw peace, and I saw friendships that were genuine, and I saw lives that were filled with purpose and conviction.

My friend Nate was the one who spent the most time answering my questions. Among the many things we talked about, two things still stick out in my mind. The first is from Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our LORD". That reminded me of John 3:16, which everyone in the world knows, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever might believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Eventually, (and I cannot pinpoint a day or time), I found myself contemplating becoming a follower of Jesus. As I wrestled through what this would mean to me, I found myself excited about the idea of being able to trust God. I remember thinking that my music, theater and druggie friends were going to think I was such a hypocrite. But I didn't care. I felt like I was being chased by God. I couldn't get Jesus' words from John 5:24 out of my mind, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." I had this growing desire to find this source of life.

So, at some point, I made the decision to believe God. I made the decision that I was going to start following Jesus. Despite the fact that I wasn't sure what it would mean over time. Despite the fact that I wasn't sure what it would mean to my life. And on and on . . .

Looking back it was a period of about two years between when I first started exploring becoming a follower of Jesus and when I finally decided I would. During that two years I wrestled with God and my soul, and took more drugs & had more sex, and fought with God, and took more drugs, and fought with my new Christians friends, and took more drugs, and fought with my parents, and took more drugs, etc. etc. . . . eventually I gave up and told God okay.

Initially most of my friends and family thought I was a little off kilter. They laughed and said, "Pretty soon you're going to f@$#! up and what will your new friends think then?" And I did screw up a lot in the beginning, but the Navigator guys never bailed on me. They were committed to help me start a new life. And most importantly my greatest fear of all never came true: that God would give up on me and walk away from me. When I think back on all the terrible things that I had done and thought about, it can only be a miracle that God hasn't left me and given up on me. But that's the beauty I never knew before I decided to believe Jesus' words and follow Him. Jesus says in John 6:35 & 37, "Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away."

I've now been following Jesus for 13 years, and it's been a wild ride. The most significant thing about my life since then is that God has been patient with me and has shown me great mercy. And there's a few key things that characterize our life together (Christina and I) as we walk with God. If you've read this far, I hope you'll read a little longer.

Key Thing #1 -- I have peace in my life. I am no longer am guilty about anything in my life, especially from my past. It says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old is gone and the new has come" Wow is this ever true! I believe completely that when Jesus died on the Cross and God raised Him from the dead, that my sins were taken away--past, present and future. I'm not saying that I no longer do things that are wrong (far from it), but I'm no longer guilty because of them. Jesus has made this possible for me and for anyone who might believe in Him. This has a profound impact on how I live my life and the quality of the life that I'm living because I'm not shackled by doubt and guilt deep, deep inside.

Key Thing #2 -- I can trust God for everything--I no longer have to worry about my life. Jesus said in John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." Philippians 4:19 says, "My God will meet all your needs, according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus." My decision to trust God for everything has been the best decision of my life. This has allowed me to resist the fear of "not having enough" and the pursuit of greed and materialism. The richness of my life has enabled me to be content with all that God has provided for me. So I don't worry about if I will keep my job, or how we will pay our mortgage, or where we will get money to retire, or where our next vehicle will come from, or the high cost of gas, or the well-being of my children, etc. etc. Because I believe utterly that God will meet all of our needs--financially, relationally, and physically. In now way am I saying that we don't plan wisely or spend carefully or do what we need to do in order to survive. We definitely try to be the best stewards of what God has given us. But ultimately God is the one who meets every need we have, and He wants to do that for me.

Something that is a source of great hope and peace for me is: the Creator of the Universe, who is unlimited in His resources and power, has unlimited affection for me and wants to meet my every need.

Key Thing #3 -- I am totally secure in my identity. I know who I am and whose I am. This may be the most significant & tangible thing that has affected me since I started following Jesus. One of the things that has plagued me as long as I can remember is that I've done almost everything in my life from a position of fear. I was afraid of getting into trouble, I was afraid of displeasing my parents, I was afraid of failing, I was afraid of not fitting in, I was afraid of what people would think, I was afraid of not being the best, I was afraid of being laughed at, I was afraid of getting caught, I was afraid that I wouldn't succeed, I was afraid of being found out, I was afraid of looking like a fool, I was afraid . . . . Everything that I did was because I was afraid. Even when I was carrying on with the sex/drugs/alcohol, it was mostly all in secret because I was afraid of getting into trouble or being thought of as a druggie. I graduated magna cum laude from college in spite of all the drugs and alcohol because I was so afraid of not being successful in school. Every relationship that I ever carried on, male or female, romantic or platonic, was all about me--so needless to say they were all pretty much based on crap.

But Jesus has released me from all of that. In 2 Corinthians 5 the apostle Paul wrote, "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." This has become what my life is about--to live my life for Him who died for me (Jesus) and not for myself. I am no longer afraid of failing. So my life has become about loving and serving others on Jesus' behalf. And this has transformed everything in my life, especially my relationships with people. Because now I see people not for what they are, but for who they can become. I see people as potential dwelling places for the Holy Spirit to live and lead, which has made my life incredibly exciting and fulfilling. By living a life not to fulfill myself I find myself filled regardless. It all goes back to where Jesus said, "He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. "

And also, I'm not a crazy nutjob. I'm a regular guy who loves his wife and children, who loves beer, who loves football and baseball, who loves hanging out and who is fiercely loyal and committed to his friends and family.

A final note: I need to disclaim that everything I've just said is the ideal--the goal to which I attain. In reality I can give into fear in a second. I can be an awful person, and awful husband, and an awful parent. I do the best that I can, but often my best isn't all that great. But because I've decided to trust God and follow Jesus, He gives me incredible grace to start anew at any moment. And that is my hope: that God is never finished with me. He is always helping me to become a more authentic man -- friend, husband, and dad. Jesus has done this for me. The things of this world cannot give that to us--the world leaves us empty, sputtering and in despair.

So that is why I've given myself completely to Him--to leave my life and the life of my family in His hands. I've given my life to God because He can do far more with it than I could ever do with it on my own. But I never would have discovered this unless I had decided to finally trust Him and receive Jesus to give me life. I can't imagine my life another way.

That took me a little longer to unpack than normal. I think I'm going to start a blog.

So do you still want to talk about this? I would love to if you do.

Your old friend,

More later . . .


The Truth Box said...

Great way to start a BLOG! I see BLOGs as a loose form of relationship and any relationship is worth beginning with the story "from whence you came."

Praise God for protecting you through the crap so that you could help others with theirs.

Hope to call you friend one day.

Kittrelle said...

Charly- this is an absolutely beautiful testimony. I've never seen it articulated so plainly. My question is: how long has it taken you to make the journey from who you were to who you are now. Was it 'overnight' or gradually improving and developing over time? Thank you for sharing this- I think I'll be re-reading it periodically for encouragement! :)