Today marks my 30th birthday, and thus, I have completed my 30th year of life. Some view 30 as a milestone, marking the end of youth. Others view it as the beginning of the prime of one’s life. Today, I look to offer something of a personal and theological memoir by telling my Christian story over these past 30 years. As I reflect on experiences in my life and especially on the 3 main eras of my Christian experience, I look to the future in a positive, hopeful light. I hope to be approaching the “prime” of my life in the sense of bearing much fruit (John 15:8) and fruit that remains (15:16) for the Lord.
My story begins first with the time of my conversion to Christ. I put my faith in Christ around age 5. In those days, I wouldn’t have had any knowledge about any of the theological questions I think about today. I believe that I simply trusted the testimony about Christ that I was told, and I trusted Christ alone. As the next years progressed, I did go to church but I don’t recall it having a central place in my life. However, in my preteen years, I actually recall a time period in which I did not go to church. My mom and sisters went, but I stayed home. This was about to change.
The Early Years
At around 14 years old, for some reason I decided I wanted to start going to church. As I recall it, I believe there was a stirring of spiritual hunger in my heart. This marked the beginning of the first era of my Christian life (approx. 2001 to 2007, age 14-20), an era of desire with ignorance. As a teenager, my life was not focused in computer stuff, as one might expect. No, my life was focused on the church, and Christian disciplines. As a teenager, I didn’t go to Saturday morning sporting activities: I went to Saturday morning Bible Studies. I also served in the church in several ways, including working in our church’s bookstore where I worked with books and made a very good friend. I read the Bible during this time. I also completed assignments in the Bible classes I attended. For fiction, I read the Left Behind series as some of the later books were just coming out, and they inspired me to see how people could be passionate for God in a world like ours that represents generally the future foretold in the Bible. As I sought to understand the Bible, it was impressed on me the need to study the Bible inductively in its own context and literally. This was reinforced by expository, line upon line Bible teaching. As important as these emphases were, there were some missing pieces in how I was to reach Biblical conclusions as I sought to apply inductive Bible study myself in reading the Word. As a result of these missing pieces, I remember many a challenging question I would have with my pastors about how to live the Christian life or what it means to live a Godly life, and I never seemed to be able to get anywhere. I also was baptized by immersion at 16 or 17 years old. Overall, while I was saved by virtue of my trust in Christ as a young child, my life was marked by ignorance about the grace of God in Christ. Unfortunately, the trends that were already at work would come to full fruition in later years.
Toward the end of this period, I lost my father two months after my 18th birthday. Then, I completed high school by graduating from our home school. As my first step in adulthood, I spent two years in a Bible College attending similar classes to the kinds I attended earlier in my teens. Unfortunately, most of these classes did not quite address the deeper issues I was facing in my life, but I had some good fun in those years and made some great memories. I also got to travel to Israel during this time, and it was a trip of a lifetime. The most significant experience of this Bible College experience though was interactions in one class in particular on the Rapture, and the class was taught by someone who had been seminary trained which was something unusual for this particular church movement. This training showed in the depth of his class, and I thrived in it. I made my first attempt to declare and defend the Biblical distinction between Israel and the Church in a paper for his class which I did excellently on, and the experience in this class was a clue that I needed to continue to go deeper in my studies of Scripture and that I had gifts in the area of academics. Yet, I did not end this era thinking about this primarily. I was thinking more about getting on with my life, and finding a way to support myself and a future family. Thus, at the conclusion of my Bible College experience, I entered the workforce.
Years of Struggle
The next season of my life (2007-2012, approx. age 20-25) was one marked by interaction with the skeptical spirit of this age and increased struggle about God’s grace. As I entered the workforce, I experienced more of the skeptical outlook and generally sinful lifestyles of this age than I had ever before experienced in my life. In this context, I found myself with an awareness of the need to proclaim Christian truth and to be an example of the Christian lifestyle to people who perhaps may have never truly seen what a Bible-believing Christian was. I sought to honor the Lord the best I knew how, but I didn’t verbally witness often. On one occasion when I did verbally witness, it proved to have negative personal consequences. I also did go with some regularity at times to street witness in downtown Rochester with a friend. At this time, I also found myself in a new church, namely a fundamental Baptist church. My time at this church was an important time. They were my brethren and pastor at this very crucial time of my life, even though they may have not had all the answers I sought. One friend said of me in this era that I had a quiet testimony of faithfulness. I would hope so. But inside, the storm was raging. In the middle of this era, I ended up back in school to work on an Information Technology degree to enable me to get into a computer technology career. It was on the non-Christian college campus that I also encountered challenges to my faith, some from my own questions and some from interactions on campus. Some of the theological issues and questions I interacted with were with the doctrine of the Bible, including issues of which books to include in the Bible, of inerrancy, and more. The issues on the doctrine of the Bible flow in many ways directly from my growing up in today’s skeptical age. During this time, I had opportunity to visit the Creation Museum for the first time. While it didn’t answer all my questions at once, it was a very important experience for me and an encouragement to keep on going in my pursuit of faith and certainty in the skeptical questions of this age. I even spent a summer there a few years later. The skeptical age we live in challenges us to ensure that we are very strong in faith and have reasons for our faith.
Additionally, and perhaps more painfully, the lack of foundation regarding the grace of God that stems back to the early era continued to evidence itself as I slipped further away from proper grace teaching. Some of the issues that built up were regarding issues of how one is saved, assurance of salvation, and eternal security. I reached a point in early 2012 in which I gave up trying to live for Christ because I did not have either the knowledge, or will-power, or grace from God to live for Him with assurance of salvation and the joy that comes from living by grace (as in 2 Cor. 1:12b). This was not a right decision, and I continue to feel some mild consequences from my decisions of this time. During this time, I felt God’s hand of chastening in a very clear way when my car was broken into during this period. Perhaps even more significantly, I felt His hand of blessing in at least one clear practical way when I didn’t deserve it, and I felt his restraint on my rebellion of this period. In these ways, He did break through and still made His presence felt in my life even at a time I had given up. That does give me some encouragement that He can still break through even when I may be confused or unfaithful. This period of walking away, this darkness, is how the second era of my life concluded.
Years of Growth
The third era of my life was and is years of clear growth (mid-2012 to 2016, approx. age 25-30). The era certainly had to begin with a return to the Lord. In truth, a verse painted on the wall at the Christian bookstore I worked at as a teen expresses my heart at this point: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” (John 6:68). So with that, I returned back to essentially where I was, but still somewhat broken and feeling the weight of the issues of living by grace that led to the downfall I experienced. Interestingly enough, during the darkness of the prior period, the Lord led me to the right educational opportunity that would permit me to use both of my previous degrees to work towards a graduate level Bible degree that I was ready for and, in fact, desperately needed. So, by late 2012 I was back in school while working my day job, which by now was in Information Technology. This school experience was life changing for me in my attempts to study the Bible. For the first time, I learned several things. First, I was taught the limits of inductive Bible study and that Biblical teaching is often fully developed only after making summary statements that consolidate or synthesize relevant passages that have been interpreted in their own context. While proof-texting is valid, it is not something that can be used to resolve all doctrine questions. Second, I saw clearly for myself for the first time the legitimacy of the concept of dispensations and that there are distinctions in God’s Word that must be discerned. Yes, I had already done some work regarding the distinction between Israel and the church, but in this period the concept just really lit up for me. Reading Dispensationalism by Charles Ryrie was a key catalyst to that end. Third, I also got to learn Koine (Biblical) Greek in this period and gain some confidence in studying the New Testament in the original language. This was a huge praise as it was a goal of mine back to the teen years. Fourth and finally, I began to be introduced to the true grace of God as it pertains to salvation. It came slowly. In the early part of this period, I started to walk away the works-oriented salvation beliefs. These beliefs included the possibility of loss of salvation, fear of dying in sins by committing a mortal sin, and similar ideas. There came a crisis point that radically changed my outlook. This crisis point has led to my rejection of both Lordship Salvation and loss of salvation (I.e. full Arminian) systems. This rejection was in part due to fearing that believing in these would ultimately condemn me (c.f. Gal. 1:8,9). That led to a dark period of several months, but it was not quite met by the same “giving up” spirit of 2012, and I wouldn’t have made it without the help of my mother, one of my pastors at the time, and my then fiancée Deborah. Like struggles with the skeptical questions of this age, the story is still being written here.
At this point I have certainly tasted something of the glory of grace, the simple grace that I as a child was taught but lost sight of. I have started, and am still experiencing, a grace conversion. And this grace conversion is rooted in free grace theology based on the foundation of traditional dispensationalism as “the only way to understand the Bible” (Charles Ryrie). This grace teaches that (1) we are saved by simple faith without any works, commitments, sorrow, or anything except trust in Christ; (2) we are kept by grace alone until the end of the world; (3) and we are instructed in grace and by grace how to live for His glory (c.f. Lewis Sperry Chafer in Grace). As always, my beliefs must be tested by Scripture. What I now have are tools and resources that I have so desperately needed to answer the issues properly. By properly, I mean from the perspective that is committed to the authority of God’s inspired and inerrant Word which can be interpreted using inductive Bible study and synthesized using a proper method in making doctrinal conclusions. This past year, I finished my master’s degree in Biblical Studies, and so it feels like I am now “on my own” and starting to apply all these tools to continue my faith journey, hopefully coming to maturity in my Christian experiences. There are days when I feel I can’t find the answers, but I am surely not where I was. I need to just keep my hand at the plow, pursing God, His truth, and holiness through His Word. This blog really is aimed to be an expression of what I am learning and to encourage others.
What does the future hold? I hope to continue to grow. I hope to continue to deepen my faith. To borrow an analogy from Ken Ham (see Ready to Return), I want to continue “crossing the bridge” from doubt to full confidence, to full certainty. I also hope to be used by God to challenge and encourage others to experience all that God has for them, both by way of the lost getting saved and of the saved being better instructed in knowing the faith, defending the faith, and living the faith. I hope to be able to use my gifts in these areas for God’s glory and man’s benefit in the coming years. I may be 30, and my youth may be “fading,” but I hope that years of fruitful Christian living and Christian service are only just now beginning. Ultimately, I “wait for [God’s] Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). As one of my old churches always said at the start of the Sunday evening service, so I say to you, “Jesus is coming soon. Are you ready?”