Discovering Jesus, My story


I was raised in a small town where there were more cows than people. I grew up in an environment virulent with “Indiana niceness”. It’s real. I have friends who told me I was one of the nicest people they knew until they moved to Indiana for a couple years and now, I’m no longer on their list.  I’ve been found out. And I wouldn’t trade the small-town community I grew up in for anything. 

The mainline church I was raised in recited historic creeds like the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, but underneath it all, what I got out of it was that God was nice, and we ought to be nice too.   They taught me the “Golden Rule”. Throughout my upbringing church was a community of adults who took sincere interest in me and showed up to worship God.

I remember maroon choir robes, golden pipe organ pipes, that later I would learn the thrill of playing, falling in love with the hymns. These hymns, etched deeply into my heart with the exquisite poetry, would later argue with some of the weak conceptions of God I picked up and reinforce the God I was starting to discover through reading the scriptures. Aside from scripture itself, the hymnbook of the church would do more to form my view of God than any other book.

I remember robed ministers, beautiful stained glass, and dark walnut pews. It looked especially amazing at the candlelight Christmas Eve services. Good architecture mocks the smallness of unbelief. A beautiful sanctuary implanted reverence in me from a young age. Except when we responsively read the Ten Commandments about not coveting your neighbor’s ass.  Then, despite the awe-inspiring beauty of the sanctuary, I had fits of repressed laughter that at least on one occasion got me ejected with a spanking. 

I also remember the once-a-month coffee hours with plates of cookies and lots of grandmas that were predisposed to be generous with youngsters like me. I usually came home with a stash of cookies in my pockets. I remember VBS weeks, “Do Lord, oh do Lord, O do remember me”, and other songs I’ve never heard again with fragments of words embedded in me like “I’m gonna knock, knock, knock, upon my neighbor’s door, and see what God will do.”

The question of whether to believe or not didn’t really occur to me. Whether to believe in God was kind of like the question, which baseball team is the best in history and why is it the 1975 Cincinnati Reds?

There was no frantic urgency to get me “saved”, which I think I’m kind of grateful for. That kind of “urgency” can be manipulative. On many Sundays, I bargained with my parents to attend Sunday School and skip “church”, where instead I’d walk to “Flory’s”, the locally glorious greasy spoon, and split an order of fries with a friend who had struck the same bargain with his parents.

My belief was casual but real. 

But then events forced me out from merely giving a nod to God to actually find out if He was real.  My hero, my pioneering, farming grandfather, had a tragic accident that altered his life. My younger brother had life-threatening illness and a nail-bitingly difficult but successful intervention and surgery at Mayo Clinic. I was familiar with God and knew about Him, but I had not confirmed who He was. At around sixteen, I began to ransack “The Way” Living Bible, a gift I had received at the age of ten, reading it dutifully at first, and then insatiably.

A high school outreach, Youth For Christ, soon connected with me and spurred me on.  I met at 6am with Tom Rogers, a Youth for Christ missionary sent from upstate New York to the Midwest.  At 6am, we gathered to wade through the verses of the little book of 1 John.  Tom was outstanding at leaving us to wrestle with the text of scripture and work it out with God when he could have easily resolved our questions for us. He acted like a spiritual director, facilitating but not intervening. The stark clarity of 1 John clashed with my foggy grasp of who God is.

Tom challenged me to be honest about my functional gods. For me, playing trumpet in a big orchestra was my greatest passion. God was nice, but not something to disrupt my priorities.

I did a term paper on the Shroud of Turin and experienced a kind of being slain in my spirit absolutely flattened to the floor by an article on what a crucified man would have experienced. The article was in Rolling Stone magazine. It caught fire with the information I had about God. I felt loved with an incomprehensibly personal love. I entered a long season where I would feel compelled to pray on my knees over an open Bible and write down long passages and read and read. I remember many times feeling like I was freshly “converted”, and again and again lost in the wondrous discovery of Jesus showing me Himself.

This was the launching pad, on my knees, in wonder and worship of Jesus. The passion has only grown and deepened. Sometimes in seasons of winter and drought, but always proving God more than a match for any experience or question.

I was flung into youth ministry early in my conversion in the churches that had funded Tom Rogers and sent him from Upstate New York. I was deeply impacted by devoted Christians there. I was discipled on the Big Ten University campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. I learned mission was in my own dormitory not just across the ocean. Before my last year of college, I served as a summer missionary in Zimbabwe, during a time that history may say was a kind of revival. I baptized students who professed faith in Christ at the Rusape Dam. I experienced the Holy Spirit pulling me into constant conversation with Jesus. Ministry was life-transforming to others and life-giving to me. My heart could only be content now with career Christian service.

I believe that in the gospel we have the best story. The story of not merely the forgiveness of our sins and the resurrection of our bodies, but the ultimate renewal of this earth, as well as the good news that we can be Christ’s apprentices right now. I love this definition of discipleship as “living as closely to Jesus as possible.”

In college I saw the power of expository preaching, where the text of scripture forms the message and feeds and empowers the congregation and covers it with a vibrancy you cannot find in any other gathering. Preachers who labored over the scriptures and faithfully proclaimed it became my mentors, their congregations witnesses to divine power in the Word. And out of that, and mixing together so many graces and so many manifestations of God’s goodness I began to be called as a pastor.  It was in some ways nearly inseparable from my calling to believe and follow Jesus.. I know there is no one like Him. If I had a thousand lives to live I would want to live all of them for Jesus Christ. 

Over the years since, I’ve seen hypocrisy, the wreckage of souls that come from miscarriages and abuses of ministry, and the worst kind of dysfunctions and even nasty church politics. But strange as it may seem, even these things confirmed my faith because Jesus did not hide the fact that these things would co-exist with the things He brings that are uniquely beautiful. Even when I’ve been wounded by these things, in Jesus’ hands they only become the “darkness that brightens the glimmering star.” That glimmering star is Jesus.

Jesus has never disappointed me, and I am grateful to be called to live my life for Him and to serve and proclaim Him as a pastor.

Published by hawk4grace

Christian, husband, father, pastor

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