Telling one's sort of life story on your blog...a bunch of Christian bloggers are doing so this week so I figured I would throw my hat in as well. Here is a short vignette of how I became a follower of Jesus and where his paths have taken my life.
I grew up in a home of good values and stability, but God, Jesus, or the Bible were not a topic of discussion or practice. As I got a bit older I was the type of person who would try to disprove the existence of God and thought Jesus was just a crazy religious leader or some sort of political revolutionary. I thought these things about Jesus without really knowing anything about him. Growing up I did really well in sports, school and leading what most would call a pretty sweet life. I was quarterback of my high school football team, state champion and High School All American in wrestling, and was quite successful academically. The end of my senior year in high school I stood atop a victory stand as one of the best wrestlers in the state of Virginia. I stood there with all these accomplishments yet I really didn’t know what I was doing in life. I was living what Socrates called an unexamined life.
I received a scholarship to go to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and went off to pursue a degree in Physics. During my freshman year in college I continued to do pretty well. I made the starting lineup on my college wrestling team and maintained a 3.2 grade point average in my studies. This was a miracle on our wrestling team. Then I met some Jesus people and began to wonder why they believed in what they did. I met a guy named Mike Echstenkamper, the director of UNC’s Athletes in Action, the athletic division of Campus Crusade for Christ. Mike asked me a strange question, “where does God fit into your life?” I told him I didn't really care too much about God but my curiosity allowed me to agree to talk with him further. I had the idea I would confuse him during our discussions with intellectual arguments, hoping to discourage him about his personal beliefs and convictions. Throw out inflationary big bang theory and quantum indeterminacy and mess with the preacher guy. This is when I felt God came to me in the place I was vulnerable and hit me in the gut. He knew I would attempt to logically deny what Mike was saying so he enabled my heart to hear what he was saying. Mike talked about sin; I knew I was not perfect; I had lots of proof for that. He explained how God had sent Jesus to the earth to pay the penalty I deserved for my sin so I could be forgiven and consequently become part of the family of God. God had created me and loved me enough to allow his Son to die in my place. I understood what he was saying and a week or so later I bowed a knee to follow Jesus. School soon ended and I went home, back to the homestead where I didn't know any Christians or anyone I could talk with about the stuff going down in my life spiritually. When I went home I lived the way I had in the past; I drank quite a bit, got in bunch of fights (undefeated) and partied.
The end of the summer came and I headed back to school and the party continued. Then I hit bottom. I was arrested after some fisticuffs outside of a bar in Chapel Hill and it seemed as my life was rapidly unraveling. My coach talked to me, verbally chewed me up and spit me out. He threatened to kick me off the team and told me to come back to practice two hours later after he made his decision about my future. Those hours were the longest of my life. I called a close friend on the team...he was not home. I called home; my mom who was always home, was not there. I felt more alone than I ever had, and then God spoke to me and comforted me with the fact that I wasn't alone at all; Jesus was with me and had not left me and never would: God spoke into my soul what I later found out accords with Hebrews 13:5--God has said "Never will I leave you never will I forsake you" I knew that I wanted to stop playing around, give the whole game to Jesus, my lord and God. I began to learn the Scriptures and how to follow him. As a guy studying the hard sciences with a bunch of skeptical friends, I had a bunch of questions and wore out both people and books with them. My outlook on life totally changed. God had given me a passion I knew a call to ministry very early after my conversion and will hit that next.
During my last year of college I remember spending some down time in the track stadium at Fetzer Field at UNC. I had finished a run and was waiting on the guy who was discipling me. I remember laying down and was in prayer and sensed that God had significant plans for my life and that I needed to beg him for humility every day. I knew he was calling me to gospel ministry but I wasn’t sure where. After college I knew a few things. I loved the college sports scene; I loved the gospel and lost knuckleheads. So it only made sense to go in to ministry in the world. I feel God desires to have bold people who will speak and live for the glory of his Kingdom in strategic areas on earth; I felt sports was one of those areas. I have been an athlete for almost my entire life and realize the impact which athletes have on the world. I also feel the burden for a lost world confused in its own intellectualism; so I wanted to begin my ministry on the college campus where future leaders could be found. Given a boldness to stand firm for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints and an eagerness to preach the gospel, my wife and I went into ministry with Athletes in Action in 1996.
We spent 2 years in training at the University of Kentucky – sort of like purgatory for a UNC graduate – where we helped start a new ministry. My main team was soccer players. I hated men’s soccer (my wife was an All American women’s player so that was cool) at the time and thought God was messing with me, but he ended up saving about half the team that year. It was fun and I now like men’s soccer quite a bit. After our training we wanted to open up an AIA ministry where there was nothing going on, a place where my wife and I could also coach in our sports. We ended up moving to Virginia Tech in 1998 and had a great six years there. God did some really great stuff during our time and our ministry grew to one of the largest AIA gigs in the US. I also became a regional director in that season and served nationally in several capacities. We also started a summer project in the Czech Republic to engage atheists with the gospel and train students to engage people and culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
After spending eight fruitful years with Athletes in Action I received a phone call in January 04 from a guy at Fellowship Bible Church in Nashville, TN. He was a friend of a few of my buddies who had planted a church in 1996. He was looking for a college/singles pastor. I laughed at him because I thought singles ministries were silly get-a-date clubs which I wasn’t interested in. He said that it was more an opportunity to build a young adult community in the gospel and lead them on mission. We also talked about my long term dreams to be Ravi Zacharias – or at least a short white guy version that may not be as smart. In spring of that year I resigned my position with AIA to move to the Nashville area to join the team at the church. I had been growing in ecclesiological conviction away from the parachurch and the move felt right for that reason as well. Yet the main reason I made the move was to be mentored by a church planter and work under a slightly older guy, who was a go get it type, who could mentor me and be a friend. To make a very long story short, things did not go real well with that plan. Many things happened which were a bit unexpected and I never seemed to fit in with the culture here...but I prayed to be faithful. The ministry I was called to start (Inversion) has gone well and I dearly love the people. I also have some other minor roles at the church. I have done a little Sunday morning preaching, taught theology/apologetics, encouraged towards ministry with the poor etc. Yet it has been tough being here. I prayed about moving to finish my seminary degree in Louisville and then move forward in God’s call on my life. I was pretty convinced we needed to move again to go to seminary, knock it out, and then plant churches. But God kept us here for another season. The passion for church planting began to arise over the course of my 2.5 years at Fellowship. I had always been doing start-ups, loved leading and the idea of integrating some divergent passions. I love being with diverse people, teaching at both street level and academic, and building things. So now we are praying to move into church planting in the future. We are sure there are many hills called “difficulty” ahead of us, but we know God’s calling and ministry will move forward as he sees fit…