Monday, September 19, 2011

My Testimony in the Context of a Twenty Year High School Reunion

Late last week I received a Facebook friend invite from my high school's 20th reunion committee.  The 20 year mark will happen next year as I graduated in June 1992.  Twenty years is a very long time.  To be honest, it really seems like two hundred years as it seems as I have gone through several lifetimes since then.  Of course things such as this stir up many memories and creates a mood of nostalgia.  I have been in this mood for several days and I think it would be a good exercise to reflect and who I was then compared to who I am now.  There is a church near I live that has a sign out front that currently reads "The past should be a guidepost, not a hitching post."  That is a very true statement. Sometimes we need to look way back just to see all that God has done in your life.  I do this not to live in the past, but to show how my past is no longer who I am.  All my mistakes and all my triumphs leading up to my salvation are an integral part of the path God used to lead to my redemption. I do this only as a point of comparison, to show who the dead man was to better appreciate who the new man is. 
Therefore, if anyone [is] in Christ, [he is] a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV
So with that in mind, let us go back in time to 1992.  I was a senior in high school.  I had a good girlfriend (though nothing compared to my wife, who is the first and only person that I ever met that I truly can not see myself living without).  I was in the Science and National Honors Society. I received a significant scholarship to every college where I was accepted.  I was in the top 7% of my class.  I took to Advanced Placement courses and passed their requisite tests for college credit (Biology and Algebra).  I had a great group of friends who were just as worldly as I was.  God was someone I believed in, but did not really know at all.   I was set to begin my college career with a major in Environment Science and a minor in Biology.  I had a very bright future. 

As for my personality, I was a fairly nice guy.  I was quiet and shy and very few people really got to know me, and this is something that has not changed as much as I would like.  More people know me now than they did back then, but I do hold things back.  Quiet honestly, only my wife really knows me, or at least as much as someone can know me.  I cared about the environment, even so much as to declare Environment Science as a major.  Please do not think that a man who sports a "Go Grey" T-shirt now was green.  I was slightly green, mostly seeing that as a good field with a good earning potential.  I rarely drank if at all and had no real interest in getting drunk.  I worked at Bradlees, a now-defunct department store chain, and was a good employee even winning some service awards.  This was all the quiet before the storm. 

Then came college.  That was a whole different story.  I began my college career at Albright College.  I was there for a about a week before I realized I hated it.  I transferred to Stevens Tech and they were gracious enough to still allow me to use the scholarship they previously offered me.  For the first year, things were great.  I maintained good grades.  I was devoted to my work.  But there was a growing darkness inside me.  I do not know where it came from or why it was even there, but it was there and gnawing at me.  At some point, someone close to me betrayed me.  Well, in my mind she did but in retrospect it was not nearly the betrayal I made it out to be.  I was hurt and I allowed thoughts of vengeance to consume me.  Whether this was the result of the darker person I was becoming or whether it was the cause I will never really know and I suppose to does not even really matter.  I was in a relationship that the only reason I was in it was to end it on my terms and to prevent her from starting one with someone else.  Ultimately, I met someone else and the time was ripe.  One weekend morning, I pulled the trigger and without warning I ended a relationship that was several years old and without any warning whatsoever.  I had hurt someone who deeply cared about me very very badly and destroyed myself in the process. 

The problem was that I had a conscience that burned inside me.  I thew myself into this new relationship and seared my conscience of the last.  I killed any feelings of remorse and committed myself obsessively into a relationship that never should have been.  I thought what I had done was the height of manipulation, but this new person showed me that what I had done was child's play compared to what she was capable of.  Before long, I did not know which way was up.  All I cared about was that relationship and my grades suffered in the process.  I no longer cared about success in school or in life. I ran up those new student credit cards that the banks were handing out like candy all for nothing.  Eventually, someone from her past came back into the present.  This was a man who was very physically abusive in the past and very into drugs. She decided to go back to this past relationship, but that was something I was not going to accept.  Over the next couple of months, the student became the teacher as I spent time with the two of them picking at his temper showing her that he was who he always was.  Eventually, she broke it off with him and our "relationship" was restored.  It dragged on for a few months and several more dramas longer before it finally ended. 

When it did end, I was empty.  In just a couple of short years, I was in debt, doing very poorly in school, and I really just did not care.  I saw everyone's value in terms of what they can do for me. I really did not care about anyone else.  I had fun with my friends, worked for cash and spent it faster than I made it, and showed up to school only those times I felt like it.  During these few years from 20-22 years old I spent time at Middlesex County College, Rider University, and Caldwell College.  Not showing up really does not help grades, but I faked it as much as I can and except for very technical classes, I really did not do all that bad.  I was lazy and indifferent, but I was still smart.  It was not until Caldwell College until I just completely gave up.  I probably did not pass a class after my first semester there, but I really never even showed up.  I quite honestly do not know if I ever even got my grades let alone looked at them or even cared.  What I did care about was making money, spending money, and getting drunk.  That is something I did with dangerous regularity.  When I went out drinking, it was always a real bender.  Unfortunately (though I felt it rather fortunate at the time), we had a constant designated driver who always wanted to come out and did not drink and I never got sick or hungover.  I was able to drink without consequence.  I do not think I was an alcoholic because I did not drink when I was working or driving.  I was not constantly drunk, but did get drunk rather often.   As for other people, I loved my friends because I had fun with them.  As for relationships, there was no such thing.  It was more a matter of getting people I was not really interested in to be interested in me.  I liked the hunt but had little to no interest in the prize.  My emotions ranged from angry and bitter to completely indifferent and quite honestly I do not know why.

What is amazing is that God was working in my life through much of this.  There was a person who was sort of in my life who was a "Christian."  I was strangely attracted to that fact.  I am not quite sure how to explain the feeling, but was just felt right. The idea of her being a Christian was something that stuck in my brain and I told her that I was one too (I did believe in Jesus but I really had no idea about the whole Lord and Savior thing, nor did I have any clue as to what it meant to be a Christian).  It was a completely different kind of person to talk to and we were in and out of each others life via letters and phone for several years.  She lived far away and so meeting her did not really happen for several years though I was never able to completely put her out of my mind.  In retrospect, I think that God may have used that rudimentary influence to keep me from falling completely off the deep end.  But her real effect would not come until several years after we met and at the time God was ready to act in my life.

Then came one fateful summer when God really began to get a hold of me.  It was August and a friend and I went on an east coast road trip.  We stopped in New York City for a concert on our way to Boston for a couple of nights.  After Boston, we drove to Baltimore stopping in New Jersey for another concert.  After Baltimore, we went to Myrtle Beach, SC for a few days.  God was really beginning to speak to me at this time regarding my life.  I am not going to say that I did not drink as much as I did or that anything was really changing, it was just a call that was becoming more and more difficult to ignore.  While in South Caroling, my friend and I went to a "Christian Psychic" and I was more interested in the Christian part than the psychic part.  Yes, I know that there is no such thing as a Christian psychic, but I did not know how utterly incompatible they were at the time.  She said some things to me that only served to fuel what I was already purposing to do in my mind.  That thing was to get in contact with that Christian girl again and to begin to get serious with God. 

When I returned, I started going to church.  It was catholic church, but that was all I knew at the time.  I began to read my Catholic Bible as I planned my final push to finally make a relationship with that person.  Please do not think I am giving any credit to that false prophet.  God merely used her lies to reach my life in spite of her lies, not because of them.  Eventually, that person called me out of the blue and with my heart already trying to find a way to make a way with her, things really just clicked.  Again, this was all God.  I was going to that Catholic church, reading my catholic Bible, and slowly but surely making myself right with God.  Of course, one can not make themselves right with God so while my heart was pointing the right direction, I was choosing the wrong path to get there.  Then the time came to finally meet.  One January morning, I flew down to Tennessee to meet this person for the very first time. I spent a few days with her and her family and I began to see what being a Christian really meant.  I was with a family that prayed before meals, went to church twice a week, went to Sunday school and other small groups, and their whole lives seemed to revolve around their faith.  I was a fish way out of water.  I had no idea what to do or even how to act.  It was all somewhat strange to me, but also very attractive.  It felt right.  It felt like home.  It felt like this was where I was supposed to be.  I am not talking about her family specifically, but the family of God.  The fellowship they shared and faith they had was nothing that I had ever even witnessed before.  It was new and amazing and I wanted that for my life too.

When I came home, I continued to go to that Catholic church.  I desired fellowship and so I hung out in Christian chat rooms on AOL.  It was there where people kept asking me if I went to Calvary Chapel Old Bridge because I lived in Old Bridge.  Eventually, I was so curious about that church that I attended a service.  That was when things really started to happen.  I felt completely welcome the first time I went through those doors.  I heard a real Bible message, learned about grace, and about a relationship with Jesus Christ.  I knew this was where I was meant to be.  I immediately joined their men's group where I met some men who became a great influence in my early Christian life.  I could not get enough.  I read my Bible every day and every day I learned something new.  I read book after book about Christianity, including some that would not really be recommended.  My zeal grew faster than my knowledge, but slowly but surely God corrected those sometimes embarrassingly wrong views to where God created in me a solid doctrine.  For some time, I went to Calvary Chapel and the catholic church, but as I learned more and more I realized that Catholicism did not have the solid doctrine that I desired.  I committed myself to Calvary Chapel and the rest if history.

If it were only that simple!  God still had much work to do in me and that is certainly not the end of the story.  It is when that old man died and that new man (yet still a babe) became alive inside me.  I did not have one magic moment or emotional alter call that so many others had, but I did have an experience.  I came to the dramatic and sudden realization that the Jesus I prayed to every night since I was a child was someone I can actually know.  I came to the realization that the same God I sang to in my mind since a child was always there, even in my lowest of my lows.  I came to the knowledge that no matter how alone I ever felt in my life, that God always had His hand in my life.  I do not know why and I may never know until I am present with Him, but for some reason God always kept some witness in my heart.  I ignored it, I misunderstood it, and I even rebelled against it, but it was always there.  God may not have lived in my heart, but He certainly spoke to it.  I gave what was left of my life to God and He gave me a new one.  He gave me a new heart with new feelings, He gave me new friends and a new family.  My life has never been the same since.  I am not saying that I was suddenly and instantly a perfect Christian.  I can't even say that now!  I was far from it.  God worked on those issues in my life one by one and some are still being worked on, but I am always moving forward. 

Who I was in 1992 is but a distant memory.  I thought my life was all planned out, but little did I know the long hard road I was about to travel upon.  It was a road of alcohol, pain, wrong priorities, bad relationships, apathy, selfishness, failure, and irresponsibility.  I would like to say I have regrets, especially since those mistake still affect my life to this day.  The thing is, though, that God used all those things to reach me.  Yes it was a horrible road, but it brought me to God.  Who knows where I would have ended up should it have been any different.  I can not regret sins that were forgiven me and I can not regret a road that led to my salvation.  I can not believe that I am any more or less special than anyone else so that same still-small-voice that was ever present in my life has to be present in the live of others.  Perhaps you head that voice and perhaps you ignore it.  Perhaps all you do in life is a means to try and drown it out.  I urge you to hear that voice calling you to Jesus.  You do not need to clean up your act or try to earn His favor, you just need to respond.  He is not looking for you to clean yourself up, He just wants you to admit that you need it.  He will cleanse you.  He is not looking for you to make up for past mistakes, He is only looking for you to admit that you can not.  He will forgive you of them.  Just come to Him, as you are, as I did, and He will change your life forever.  Actually, let me correct that.  He will give you a new life entirely.  I say that because life does not even really begin until you are alive in Him. 
And you [He made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised [us] up together, and made [us] sit together in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in [His] kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; [it is] the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  Ephesians 2:1-9 NKJV

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