Looking back on the twenty something years of my life I can distinctly find different places where God has worked, and I have been changed. I think for most people this is true. You live your life, pursue God, and grow in Him. The problem we all fall into though is that we often grow complacent in that walk and slowly drift from a God centered life to a “me” centered life. It’s often in those times when God works. Sometimes though brokenness, sometimes through revelation, always the same result, the realization of God’s high calling and a life lived in pursuit of it.
I was born into a normal church going family. From birth on I attended Sunday School, big church, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, and every special event the church sponsored. I think if you can define what the typical church experience would be, I would fit the mold. I was baptized by my dad (a para-church minister) at the age of seven, wore a button up shirt, khakis and dress shoes, participated in the musicals, and even got to sit on the platform a few times. I am a normal SBC raised kid. Before I move on, I think my faith, though grounded much in what my parents believed, was real, genuine and true.
Growing up every person begins to define who thy are. I grew up founded in faith, but as middle school and high school came peer pressure became a prevailing influence. I wanted to fit in (who doesn’t?) and so my humor, language and thought life followed after my unsaved friends. The jr high, and high school locker rooms are a place where boys try to be men. I never got into what many of my friends got into like drinking, sex and such, but still my life was about myself and my friends. I am not a believer in a distant God, as I understand it, the God of creation is a personal God who works actively in the world today. At the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, God broke me. At the end of my freshman year, I had quit football to chase after choir (yes I’m a choir geek). I showed up for class my 2nd year of high school, and every friend I had known from elementary school on up was no where to be found. I went to every class, lunch, everything…. I knew no one. For those of you reading who are extraverts who see this as a way to make a whole new set of friends- congrats. Thats not me. I found security in friends and safety in their support.
My life needed to be reevaluated. I remember going to my room burring my head in my pillow and crying. School stunk! Next to my bed, just fresh off of its weekly outing to church was my bible. I opened it, some of the pages of this bible still stuck together from lack of use. This bible was a normal Baptist bible, carried on Sundays, never used during the week. I opened it page one… “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” As I read, I got addicted. The more I read the more I wanted to read it. The next morning came, and my thoughts were still on the stories I had read the night before. I picked up my bible put it in my bag and took it to school. Every opportunity I got, I pulled my bible out of my bag and read it. I read it so much in fact that I didn’t even bother putting it back in the bag; I carried it around, and read it every chance I got.
If there is one thing I have found in following God it is- when God is at work, there is always fruit. I soon found that reading alone could not satisfy me. I remember rich and deep prayer times, but even more than that didn’t feel the need to evangelize, it just happened. I wanted everyone to know what God did. I kept chick tracts in back pocket, wore a bright orange sticker that said “Jesus Saves” and did what ever I could to let people know who Christ was.
Following two years of passionately following God, wearing the tread off of 2 bibles, and sharing with any thing that would breathe I grew complacent. I got a girlfriend (non Christian) found a new group of friends, and saw my walk with Christ slowly dissolve till it was non existent. My desire for the word wasn’t there, my zeal for the lost- gone, yes, I have to say an easy life got in the way of God’s call. I knew by that point that I was called to ministry, so my life continued to coast toward a profession in religion.
I would say the next 5 years of my life were more of the same. In fact college and seminary hurt my walk rather than helped it. I studied about the bible, yet in those days did not develop my relationship with God. I was to busy for that, I had work, class and church that took up all of my time. What I learned at that part of my life was that I could play the game. There is a difference in religion and Christianity. In fact I would say that there are a good number of churches which are dead yet participate in religion every week. That’s who I was. The major ministry of my tenure as senior adult minister at my seminary church was a board game weekend with a cute devotional thought. Wow Wes, your really changing the world there.
About halfway through my seminary career, God intervened again. I was a prideful self centered preacher who saw seminary as a steppingstone to my eventual place as a mega church pastor. I had no heart for the lost, I had a heart for myself. I remember standing inline for classes one semester when I got into a conversation with a missionary in training. He told me about the need, and I told him that I was sure glad that God sent people “like him” to those people. I though I was to good to have my talent wasted on folks overseas. I would often say that my calling was to take care of folks here in America. The only person I wanted to take care of was the man in the mirror.
One day a flier was slipped under the door of my apartment. It was simply an advertisement for a mission trip to Vietnam. I don’t know what it was about it, but I knew I needed to go. God’s intervention came on this trip. We were in the central highlands, in a small village, in a hut. A family invited us in, and we watched as a father, sacrificed a chicken to the god of the harvest. This man was going to hell… wow, who is going to tell him? A fire once again was ignited inside of me.
Six months later, God is continuing to work in developing a heart for the lost in me. My fiancé and I (new girl, awesome Christian) decided to go to Beirut to hand out bibles in a Muslim part of town with a group from the seminary. As we strived to share with any person possible, I found that I came back every day hungry. Not hungry for food, but instead hungry for the word. At this I realized a God parallel. As you read then you tell. When you tell you want to read.
From seminary I have served in two churches. I have realized in church that I have fallen into the same temptation that I fell into in seminary and high school. I am not living a life of sin in the view of most, but have gotten so distracted doing what’s religious that I have lost site of what’s my primary purpose as a pastor, Christian and church leader- lost people. Recently I have felt God’s intervention again. I posted my thoughts (A New Vision) on the church side of it, but I wanted to show you my journey in coming here. I think every Christian has the struggle of growing religious, God’s intervention and our desire to win the lost. Right now I don’t have all of the answers, but realizing the problem is a move in the right direction. So that my story.