According to the Riches of His Grace

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…" -Ephesians 1:7-8

Category: Personal

Remembering My Salvation Date

I am in my seventh year of being a Christian. For my entire time as a Christian, I have never known the exact date that I became a Christian. It happened over a period of time, so I never remembered the exact moment that I made the decision.

Last night, I was laying in bed trying to go to sleep and a million thoughts were running through my head. In the midst of that hurricane of thoughts, it just came to me. Somehow I knew when it was. I wasn’t searching through the database of my mind for an answer. It wasn’t even something I was thinking about, but it came to me.

It happened in my sophomore year of high school. I knew that much, but I didn’t know the date.

On my first day of high school, I thought I was a Christian. I had walked the aisle in a small country church on July 13, 2003 and repeated everything the pastor said and I was baptized right then. Looking back, I did it that day because I was encouraged to. I wanted people to be proud of me. And I didn’t want to go to hell when I died.

Fast forward four years, I was a sophomore and my life had changed none since 2003. I was still seen as a well-mannered teenager that mostly obeyed his parents and took his homework seriously. But I know what my heart was.

I was full of pride. I thought of myself as the best young man around because I wasn’t smoking, drinking, partying, or having sex. My mind was full of lust. I really wanted a girlfriend, not because I was interested in her, but just because I wanted to have make out sessions. I looked down on those less fortunate than me, the bad kids, people of a different ethnicity, and especially the students who just wanted to copy off me in class.

I wasn’t the type of person you would consider a bad sinner (one who gets drunk at the bars and goes to strip clubs), but I was just as bad. I saw myself as the god of my universe, but I was a deity not worthy of your praise.

Then came September of my sophomore year. My hometown was experiencing the worst heat wave I remembered in my life. My dad was driving me home from school and the sun was shining in the window. I pulled back out of the rays and complained, “Ugh, when is this heat going to end?!”

My dad said, “I think we are getting close to the end of time.”

Now, seven years later, we are still here, but as a 15 year old, he could have told me my grandfather died and I might not have experienced as much fear in my heart. Despite that I saw myself as my own god, I still generally believed that God and Jesus existed and that what the Bible said was true.

Growing up in a small town in the Bible Belt, I had been taught a theology known as the rapture. This is basically the idea that everything will for the most part be hunky-dory on earth until Jesus appears in the clouds, takes the Christians out of the earth, and leaves the world to chaos, ruled by the Antichrist for seven years before returning for good and destroying all evil. As I have studied the Bible, I don’t hold to this theology today, but it was very real to me at that time.

I didn’t want this to happen. Firstly, I believed that because I had walked the aisle in church in 2003, I would have been taken from the earth if the rapture happened (but I wouldn’t have). Secondly, I wanted to live my life before Jesus returned. Surely, he would return when I was about 50 and all my body started to go bad, right? Save me from the bad stuff of life, because remember, I am the god of the universe. Everything should serve to my interests. Let me get married, start a career, learn to drive, and have kids before you interrupt my life.

So when my dad and I got home, I began to look up the end of the world on Wikipedia. Not a good idea if you are scared of it, because you will start to find all kinds of theories of when it’s going to happen. The next theory of when it would happen was October 12 and so until that day, I was scared to death. It didn’t happen that day.

In my research, I came across a book series called Left Behind. This is a 16 volume series of novels that tell a fictional account of the rapture and the seven years following it. I was set that I wanted to read the series to figure out what it was going to be like.

On October 31, 2007, I went on a field trip with my high school BETA club to Louisville, KY. We were going to be in Louisville for 3 days. While we were out to eat downtown, I saw a Barnes and Noble, so I asked for permission to go in and buy a book. I purchased the first Left Behind novel that night.

When we arrived back at the hotel, I wanted to immediately dig into it. Most of the students on the trip went to hang out in someone’s room. I sat down in the hallway outside of my room and began to read. I read the whole first chapter, which details the actual rapture event.

That night is when it happened. I didn’t fully understand it, but I was convinced that Jesus was the route that I had to take. I didn’t yet understand the theological things that took place at the cross. I didn’t understand that all the stories in the Old Testament were pointing ahead to Jesus coming. I didn’t understand much of anything. But I knew I wanted Jesus. And I was willing to submit to him as God.

My story for the past seven years began. It has been a bumpy road. Honestly, for the rest of my time in high school, I was more like the devil than Jesus. I don’t mean that I was living in sin, though I was still struggling with it. What I mean is that I was walking around as an accuser. I was pointing out people’s sin and being mean about it. I made myself God’s hall monitor. I’ve had to repair a lot of relationships that I damaged then and probably still have more to come. When you become a Christian, you are born again. You have to grow up over time. In my first years as a Christian, I was like a whiny baby, because I hadn’t yet grown up.

In a lot of ways, I still have tendencies to be like a whiny baby. As I pursue Jesus more, he helps remove those things and I long for the day when I will be a fully grown adult when I am with him.

But I wouldn’t change any of those times of me being arrogant, rude, or a pain to live with if I could. I’d never be where I am with Jesus today if I hadn’t went through those phases.

But I know now that October 31, 2007 is the day that I became a Christian. My story is one of irony.

The one who thought of himself as the god of the universe surrendered to the God of the Universe.

God revealed himself to me through a theology that I don’t even believe anymore.

On the day of the year that people associate with death (Halloween), I came alive.

I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.

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Reflections on my First Semester of Seminary

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The last four months have been a wild time. I began my first semester of seminary in August. It was a huge transition and it is weird how different things are now than four months ago.

In undergraduate, I was very involved at the Baptist Campus Ministry. Most of who I am as a Christian today came from my time there. The closest friends I have ever had in my life were there. So, when I graduated in May, I didn’t realize how different my life would be once all that was gone. My roommate in seminary was at the BCM as well, but aside from that, that chapter of my life closed completely.

So for the first few weeks at seminary, I felt like I was in the worst place I had ever been. In fact, I considered dropping out twice within the first month. The first time was for financial reasons. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for the tuition. The second was a reason that I will get to below.

Early on, my roommate and I didn’t really know how to get to know people at seminary. We had been part of the BCM community with more friends than we could count, but now, we were in a different world with no one we knew. I remember a couple weeks in, us just sitting out at a picnic table and deciding to take a trip to our college town because we were bored out of our minds. We sort of knew the guy across the hall from us, but aside from that, we didn’t really know anyone.

Then our dorm hosted a night out on the patio where our dorm and the girls dorm roasted marshmallows and had pizza. Following the event, some of the girls from the other dorm and some of us guys had a game night and at that game night, I met the majority of the people who are now my closest friends at seminary.

So friendships began. And we all began to hang out with each other a lot. We had movie nights together, we ate together, and we studied together.

Then came Fall Break. Fall Break was the climax of the problems I’ve had this semester. I went home. While I was there, I skyped with various friends from undergraduate and I began to dwell on again how much I missed that. I also began thinking a lot more about a thought that I have had of planting a church in my hometown and pastoring it after seminary.

So, the first night I was back, I called my roommate and told him that I was having serious considerations of dropping out and doing a shorter degree somewhere else so that I could get to ministry quicker. For the whole weekend of fall break, I prayed about this and God ended up smacking me in the face with the reality that was actually behind all of this: I needed to let go of my life in undergraduate and move on.

When you are in one community (undergraduate) and you have to completely leave that community and become part of another (seminary), it is almost like losing a loved one. You have a grieving process you have to go through. For me, that took months.

Internally, I began preparing myself for that. My roommate and I visited our college town for homecoming a couple weeks later. While my roommate went to the football game on campus, I had to deal with that externally. I took a walk around my undergraduate campus which ended at a spot on campus that I often prayed at while I was there: A fountain at the top of the hill

I let go of my time at undergraduate school and accepted the fact that it was over and I was to be elsewhere now.

After that, I never had another one of my moments where I considered dropping out. In fact, now I am happy being there. I was ready to embrace it after that point.

There are a couple things that are hard with seminary life though.

First, there is a lot of arrogance in the culture of the students. Because they are there drinking from a fire hose of Biblical information, their head gets inflated. Arrogance is always something that I battle and I pray that I have grown as I have walked with Jesus for the past 7 years. But it was discouraging sometimes hearing people constantly talking about how big God is and how small we are in an arrogant way. If you are arrogant about a theology of humility (or any theology for that matter), you don’t really believe the theology.

Second, because I don’t know the city that well yet, most of my time was spent on campus. I didn’t know ways to do ministry in the city, so a good majority of my time was spent around other Christians. But Jesus wants us to pour out of ourselves in service to him to the lost. And even discipling Christians is hard to do when it is seminary students. We often look down on monks locking themselves in monasteries for their whole lives, but I feel like a lot of seminary students, including myself this last semester, have been living that life.

These previous two reasons are what caused me to consider dropping out the second time (as mentioned earlier). However, the entire idea to drop out was based in having not let go of the past yet.

For the first month at seminary, I wanted nothing more than to leave. Now, after the first semester is over, I have arrived home and I want to go back. I feel kinda bummed that I am gone for the next seven weeks. So over the course of 4 months, I have done a 180 on how I feel about being there. Of course, I want to spend time at home with my family, but I am part of that community now and I am separated from it for a long time.