I grew up in a Christian home (and that’s not just because of my family name!), so from infancy I was taught about God. My first steps of faith happened when I was about four years old. I remember my mother telling me about heaven and hell, and that if I asked Jesus into my heart I could go to heaven. That is what I wanted, and that was obviously what she wanted me to do, so being the dutiful, responsible older son that I was, I prayed with my mom and asked Jesus into my heart.
Throughout my childhood, what started as the simple faith of a 4-year-old morphed into a self-righteous attempt to keep all the rules and be a good boy. And relatively speaking, I was pretty good at it! I craved the praise and affirmation of my parents and teachers, and found that “being good” was the means to gain that which I craved. Therefore I became very adept at keeping the rules and maintaining an external display of “good Christian behavior,” and I truly believed that was how a Christian was supposed to live.
In high school, my faith was challenged and deepened, especially through my church youth group. At a winter retreat during my freshman year, I recommitted my life to Christ and told God that I wanted my life to count for eternity. Looking back on that now, that event may have been the beginnings of my call to full-time ministry. God gave me many opportunities during high school to experience serving in various ministries. Some of the most memorable and meaningful times of my life were the summers I spent serving at Trout Creek Bible Camp. My youth group did some local mission projects together, and I spent a portion of one summer on an overseas mission trip in Portugal. Those opportunities to serve in various capacities became a testing ground for me to begin to discover the gifts and passions that God had given me, and to experience God working through me.
I enrolled in what was then Multnomah Bible College (now Multnomah University) straight out of high school. Though God had done some significant work in me during my high school years, I still operated out of the dutiful, responsible, self-righteous mentality that had been ingrained in me growing up. Thus I believe that a part of my decision to attend Bible college and pursue full-time ministry truly was a call from God and a genuine desire of my heart, but that decision was also motivated by my commitment to “do the right Christian thing.” After all, if going to Bible college to be trained for ministry was what would make my parents and pastors happy, then surely it must be making God happy with me too.
As in high school, I worked hard and excelled all the way through college and graduated near the top of my class. Throughout the four years in college, I served as an intern in the youth ministry program at my home church, and gained more valuable ministry experience and training there. After graduating, I decided to take a year off from ministry to work a “secular” job (in the county library system). That one year stretched into several years, but it was a significant season of growth for me. For the first time in my life, I was interacting with people who knew a lot about God and religion, but did not share my faith. I quickly came to realize that my Sunday-School answers were pretty shallow, and I had to begin deciding for myself if this faith was truly mine. That was a critical time for me—to some degree a crisis of faith—but through it I came to own my faith, and God began to chip away at some of the false beliefs I had developed in childhood.
One year after graduating, I got married, and my wife and I began to dream about where God would call us to serve in ministry. Eventually God brought us to a college campus ministry, so we raised support and moved down to Southern California to begin serving. We spent seven wonderful years on the campus of Cal Poly Pomona, discipling and training students, while at the same time growing our own family. In this ministry assignment God began honing in on the specific types of ministry that He has made us for, and we experienced the joy of bearing much fruit through it.
During our time on the campus, we got connected with a ministry called The Leadership Institute, and we participated in some of their training events and retreats. That was my first exposure to the terminology and practices of spiritual formation, and God met me and ministered to me very deeply through those times of solitude and community. What I experienced in those times with God fueled an intense desire to grow more in this newfound understanding and knowledge. I began reading voraciously, and then practicing and teaching all that I was discovering. My walk with God took a leap from rule-keeping religion to the beginnings of real relationship—it was exciting!
In the midst of this exciting season of growth, we made the difficult decision to step away from campus ministry, and I was able to join the staff of my home church, Evergreen SGV. That was a tough and humbling transition, but little by little, God granted me opportunities to continue developing ministries of discipleship, now in the church setting.
As I continued exploring and learning about spiritual formation, and as God continued to deepen my relationship with Him especially through the discipline of solitude, He began opening my mind to the beauty and wonder of the Gospel. The truths that I had learned as a little child suddenly took on a new significance, and God graciously allowed me to see the reality of my self-righteousness and sin, which made the wonder of Christ’s sacrifice for me stand out in all its beauty. I wrote in my journal one day that it almost felt as if there had been another conversion of sorts in me, as God awakened my heart to the ugliness of my sin but also to the profound beauty of the Gospel.
I still struggle as a responsible, rule-keeping “older brother” (as in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15) to not view my standing before God as coming from my self-righteous “goodness” but rather from Jesus’ perfect righteousness that He has placed on me. And I still struggle to walk in the easy yoke of Jesus with a rhythm of work and rest that reflects my utter dependence on Him. But God will always be faithful—I have no doubt that He will continue to draw my heart deeper into His heart, and through that He will use me to make disciples…and not just disciples, but disciple-makers. To Him be the glory!