From my earliest memories, I was always going to church. Being raised in Baltimore Maryland, you almost can't help it. I once heard a statistic that Baltimore had more churches per capita than any other city in North America. I don't know if it's true or not, but it certainly seemed that way. Every Saturday morning, we easily drove by 20 churches as we visited our grandparents.
When it came to going to church, I had it down cold. I knew all the right things to say and do. I had memorized the entire service, all the prayers, what I was expected to do or say. I knew exactly what was going to take place and when. I figured out the best place to sit in order to quickly leave and avoid the traffic jam in the parking lot.
I also went to mid-week classes to learn more about church, faith, what was expected of me. Depending on the teacher, this informal setting was more interesting and fun. I did learn a lot here – this is where I learned to smoke and how to transform a can of hair spray into a portable flame thrower. But, as far as learning more about who God was, not so much.
While I was in church all the time, I really sensed that there was something missing. I cannot explain it other than to say there was emptiness inside; I had this “gut feeling” that something vitally important was missing from my life. Watching from the pew, it seemed like I was a passive spectator and the real action was in front. Those in front were actively involved with God and I knew that was where I belonged, but I felt so unworthy, dirty.
I knew what was right but just couldn't seem to do it. We were taught the 10 Commandments and the Golden Rule. There were Bible readings and even a message, but it didn't stick. I'm sure that truth, grace, forgiveness and restoration were talked about, but I totally missed it.
As I grew, trying to do the right thing, I failed at every turn. I would go to God and ask forgiveness, but even in asking forgiveness I couldn't get it right. I would talk about things on the surface but not the core problems that festered deep inside of me.
As I entered my teenage years I was full of guilt, bitterness and anger. I started to lose control of the facade. The ugliness within was starting to breakout all over. The venom boiling inside burst out in my language, actions, thoughts and attitudes.
If this wasn't bad enough, I fell into a pattern of moral failure. The guilt and shame was overwhelming, but I had no forgiveness or power to stop. I would cry out to God for forgiveness and promise never to do it again only to fail. This pattern of failure and shame followed by sorrow was a continual downward spiral, pulling me into even deeper depths.
As I tried to hide my pain and failures, I developed tremendous self-pride and arrogance as a defense mechanism. Thought the use of intellect and arrogance, I could put up an impenetrable wall so people would not see the scared and insecure person within.
Entering high school, I started to develop some friendships through the basketball team. There were a handful of guys who seemed radically different from anyone I'd ever met. Though certainly not perfect, there was something about them. They treated one another like the real friends that I didn't have, but so desperately wanted and needed. They befriended me, inviting me to play basketball at their church on Saturday mornings. I eagerly accepted, seeing that someone was actually interested in me. Over the next months, we developed a deeper friendship where we would talk about more than basketball.
On one fateful day, Michael screwed up his courage and said the words that I most needed to hear. In the parking lot of a bowling alley he told me that God loved me. I cursed and said that God was responsible for all of my problems, which was just another arrogant pronouncement to deny any personal accountability. But deep in my heart I knew that I was wrong. In spite of my anger and response, Michael said that he absolutely knew that God loved me because Jesus died in my place.
That next Wednesday, he invited me to a high school youth Bible study. Now I had tried to read the Bible but it just never made sense. So I accepted, thinking that I could fake my way through it. I arrived late, the Bible study was wrapping up and they were going to pray. Now I knew I could pray, I had prayed all my life and had memorized more prayers than you could shake a stick at. I knew how to pray from my mind so I thought I could handle this.
Never were there words spoken that were so false.
For the first time in my life I heard people talk to God as if he was really there. The conversation was real and from their hearts, talking about their hopes, hurts, needs, pain and joy. The only way that I can describe it is that it absolutely just crushed me, I started to weep uncontrollably. They had something that I desperately wanted and needed but I had no clue on how to get there.
So, for the first time in my life, I actually spoke to God. Through my tears of shame and guilt I said that I did not know God but desperately wanted to. I had this gaping hole in my soul that I have been trying to fill but was failing at every point. Thinking that no one would understand and feeling somewhat embarrassed, I left quickly, trying to escape.
On Saturday morning, the next time we played basketball, Michael invited to come back Sunday evening for the next high school youth meeting. This time, I got there on time and just soaked it all in. Towards the end of the meeting, Howard, the youth pastor asked if I would like to learn more about a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
So Michael, Howard and I went into the boiler room of the church where they explained the incredibly good news that God wanted a relationship with me. Imagine that, the God of the universe who had all power and knew everything wanted me. They explained that I had broken that relationship through sin, which I eagerly knew and admitted. They explained that I couldn't do anything about it but God had taken care of it by sending Jesus and having him pay the price that I could not pay. God did it all and my part was to receive.
I just looked at them and said there's got to be something more, there's got to be something I have to do. I'm so used to trying to fix things and myself. They explained the beauty of it all was that I couldn't but that God had. And for the first time in my life I had a little glimpse of what God's love and grace meant.
The three of us knelt down in that boiler room and I agreed with God that I was broken, lost and could not fix myself. I told God that I needed Jesus to repair and restore my relationship with him and my personal brokenness. I asked Jesus to become my Lord, my Savior and my God. With tears of release I knew for the first time in my life that I was truly forgiven.
I walked out of that boiler room a new man in Christ, starting down a lifelong radical transformation process that continues to this day. There were some immediate and extreme transformations that God empowered in my life, for which I am truly thankful. There were other areas of my life that were struggles for years. God continues to mature me, pointing out areas of life that need to come under his greater control. I am so thankful to God for his patience and kindness to me.
It is in response to His kindness, love and grace that I now change the course of my life and walk towards full-time Bible teaching through GLAD Associates. While not worthy in any sense of the word, I know that God has both called and equipped me for this. It is with great humility that I am walking with God “to a land that He will show me”.