The year 2009 will probably be the biggest life-changing year in my existence. I experienced a great personal shock as my life was changed dramatically: I was laid off from a full-time job, ran out of money, had problems finding employment, forced to move back home with my parents at the age of 25, had my car totaled in a wreck, was forced by circumstance to take a part-time job in a lesser position, and (months later, in 2010) forced to put down a family pet of thirteen years. At times my faith was greatly tested; I remember laying on the floor of my apartment, staring up, thinking to myself the words of the Psalmist, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" I tried opening up to some people, who could only give me the platitude of "keep the faith." At times I felt very alone and very desperate.
How often, though, our faith is tested as gold through fire (cf. 1 Pet 1:7). Now as the smoke settles from the events in my life, I believe my faith has grown immensely, so that the faith held by the boy riding that elevator to his apartment, realizing that he had no income, is greater in the boy typing on this laptop. My theology has grown, and my knowledge of God has grown. I credit this to no one except God and God alone. Soli Deo gloria, the Reformers said. The reason I still believe and have remained strong is because every time I wished to throw myself back into the flames of hell from which I was saved, God grabbed my shoulders and kept me steady. In the process, however, I have come to look back on the early stages of my conversion, and I have not liked what I saw.
For so long, I attempted to justify myself. I mean that in the most literal sense. Although I turned to God for support, it was not by His will that I submitted. I thought that by outward action I could prove a living faith rested within me. By adding to my prayer routine, with acts such as bowing or sleeping on the floor at night, I thought I could make my spirituality grow. I was on the shoulders of men I considered holy, and I sought to follow their example. Yet come sundown, I was nothing more than a fraud. I was one of the whitewashed tombs to which our Lord compared the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 23:27).
I often prayed to God for help, but it was in the sense of, "Give me a boost, I can take it from here." I didn't fully realize that in order to succeed you needed God with you all the way - not partially, not simply at the beginning, but all the way to the end. Likewise, I thought that in little ways I could learn to please God, not realizing that in doing so I was simply asking God for a favor (cf. Rom 4:4-5). There is a sovereignty of God which a Christian believer cannot deny, and the minute we believe, even for an instant, that we can go on in our own strength, we are being deceived by the evil one and we are separating ourselves from Christ.
Worst yet, I was ashamed of the gospel. I would go and talk about it with religious friends, but out and about I was ashamed of it. I rarely spoke on it, I rarely evangelized to people, and when I encountered people of the world I tended to tone down my religious feelings. In particular around family, the very people I should have been striving to help, I felt myself remain silent when I should have spoken. I was the apathetic Christian and a hypocrite, conforming to the church when I was in the church and conforming to the world when I was in the world.
Some have accused my recent theological changes as being based on ambition. If this were true, I most certainly would have remained where I was. I had plenty of supporters, both in person and online. I had people regularly complimenting me, saying how smart I was and that I'd make a good church leader. In truth, maybe I rode on that. Maybe it felt good. It made me feel justified in my faith, and ultimately it was this earthly praise that became the treasure I was storing up. My ears hungered for the wasteful food of praise, and they were being fed. Now that much of it is gone, my heart is cleared. I was being allowed to speak and to educate, making me feel a bit like Paul, who spoke of advancing quickly in Judaism beyond many of his own age (Gal 1:14). My recent moves have no doubt sunk me lower than I was before in terms of stature and respect, but that I do not mind. Paul too suffered in stature and respect, and continued to do so for most his life...but he did so with endurance based on the God whom he loved.
It has also been made clear on who my true friends were. I can now see who among my friends were a Judas (betraying me at the moment of desperation), a Peter (faithful to a point), or a John (being present at my greatest moment of suffering). It's been suggested by some that I lost my salvation, while others were quick with the insults, cynicism, and ad hominems. It has been painful in many respects, but I cannot turn back based on the pressure of man.
Now, as I prepare to go to seminary, I ready myself for a service to Christ, having been sharpened by the purest iron (cf. Prov 27:17). Am I perfect? No. I'll continue growing, as everyone does. No one stops growing until the day the Lord takes them into their arms. However, as I said before, my faith has grown immensely, all to the glory of God and by the grace of God alone. I pray that in His mercy He may continue to guide me, and that I may be a tool for the will of no one but His. Amen.