Life is rarely cookie-cutter simple. Whether it’s relationships, family, money, following God, church, our jobs, or deciding which jeans to buy, life isn’t as easy as we wish it was.
Some people live as if life is a formula to be solved, but there is no formula to solve the disillusionment and confusion we sometimes feel. Perhaps that’s why I like to tackle issues on this blog that are relevant to my generation. I want this blog to be a place that helps people sort through the hard questions they face.
It seems to be resonating.
Born into a Pastors Family
When I was seven years old, I “accepted” Christ. Now you have to understand, my Dad was a pastor, our family was Christian and so I knew a lot about God and the Bible very early on in my life. I think I had gotten angry with Mom and Dad was talking with me down in my room and explained that what I need is Jesus to help me overcome my anger.
So I said I wanted that.
Dad became a pastor of a small, conservative Mennonite church a few months before I was born. He and Mom (Ernest and Rachel Witmer) had moved to Northern Minnesota about a year and a half after they were married.
As time went by, like with every church, it went through heavy conflict. The best I understood at the time was that Dad came under some attack for suggesting that things such as the plain suit and bonnet-style coverings were extra-biblical. There were intense church politics happening and Dad eventually realized that he wanted out of such a deadly system.
So he “stepped down” from leadership. People said he was “going liberal” and would lose his kids. He went from being a fairly wanted speaker to being totally rejected. One particular church called him up shortly before a week of meetings and told him they wouldn’t be having him speak anymore.
It is politics like that that makes one question the authenticity of certain beliefs. Is it actually true faith in Christ or is it just some kind of show of spirituality?
Dad often related the story of a time he and I were driving somewhere, when I was about six years old, and I told him indignantly that “I wish I could punch _____ in the nose!” Perhaps that’s where the anger started. Nevertheless, I had gotten mad at Mom and I wanted Jesus, so in October of 1998, I prayed with Dad and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
Val Yoder, in his Growth in Christ class, talks about the process of Salvation. He suggests that there is a spiritual conception, just as the physical conception of a baby. Spiritual conception is when an individual aware of God and begins developing an interest in Him. Spiritual birth is when that individual believes on Jesus and receives His free gift of Salvation and makes Christ his Lord and Savior. For some, conception and birth may happen at the same time. For others, the process may be more drawn out.
As I look back on that time as a seven year old boy mad at his Mom, I think that was more of a spiritual conception. I didn’t really know what it meant to be a disciple of Christ. All I knew was that I didn’t want to disappoint Dad and I wanted God on my side. I don’t remember thinking of God before age seven, at least not in a personal way. After that time, became aware of guilt when I would disobey and I had a deeper interest in the Bible.
But “freedom from anger” only lasted about two weeks. Soon, I was back to getting upset with Mom and my siblings as if I had no clue of my need for Jesus.
In the spring of 2003, Dad, my older brother and I had gone to a Promise Keepers event where the theme was on storming the gates of hell, taken from the passage in Matthew sixteen that talks about the gates of hell not prevailing against the church of Jesus. Gates indicate defense, which means the church is on offense. During one particular session the speaker was addressing the need to storm the gates of hell in our own hearts—areas where God does not have full control. I remember feeling so convicted of my need for a savior. I cannot control my anger on my own strength, I cannot live faithfully for God in my own power: I need Jesus.
You see, I grew up in church. My Dad’s a preacher! I knew everything Christians were supposed to do and I tried to do it. But I couldn’t. Nobody can. And that night I realized it and asked Dad if I could go forward when the altar call was given.
That’s when I personally experienced Jesus for the first time. A twelve-year old. And something happened inside of me that radically changed the direction of my life.
Here’s where I run into a problem when sharing my testimony. If you’re like me and you were born and raised in a Christian home, then you may have “become a believer” at a young age as well. If that’s the case, then you may also feel, as I do, that more sinning happened after coming to Christ than before.
It would be nice to have a testimony of addiction and dark sinfulness then I met God and everything changed, right? But that’s not how it is for me. I met God, and yes the desire within me changed, but so much sin happened in the years that followed. Sin that I deeply regret.
A Boy with Pornography
At age thirteen, I got into pornography. I had always wondered what “pornography” looked like, so one day when Dad wasn’t around I looked it up on the Internet. It’s not worth flirting with lust. Lust has devastating consequences that you don’t want to have to face.
I spent the next five years in and out of addiction to pornography. Still a pastor’s son. Clean on the outside, chill in appearance, but filthy on the inside. Empty. Guilt-ridden.
I went to youth camps and youth rally’s and acted on fire for God, because I wanted Him, I wanted to follow His way, but inside I was not free. My lust was hidden from the public. Even as I began the journey to freedom, times by myself in a room with a computer connected to the Internet were excruciatingly crippling. Lust controlled and it would not be satisfied.
I’m not going to go into details of my journey to freedom—I’m writing a book about that. But I will say that for me, finding sexual healing and moral freedom was a process of three main discoveries: understanding the connection between sexual addiction and emotional pain, understanding how I am wired as a man, and understanding how ninety percent of the battle is won or lost in the mind and we need to identify Satan’s tactics and know how to fight against him.
I didn’t learn that overnight—not even in a year. But as I discovered Truth and found emotional healing I became free. Freedom to me best wrapped up in not that I don’t face temptations anymore, but that I am free to walk away. I am free to walk away mentally from any thought that would lead me astray, I am free to walk away physically from environments that are impure, and I am free to live peacefully in the pleasure and joy of sexual intimacy with my wife.
If you want to know more of my journey in sexual healing, read this post and stay tuned for the release of my book.
The Choice That Changed My Life
I really wanted to serve God with all of my life, but struggled to know how to live it out.
In 2007, I went through perhaps the darkest season of my life. My two older siblings we away at Bible School and my parents were in the middle of church issues and, quite frankly, they were depressed. I was frustrated, and also depressed. This was the second time our family had gone through major church struggles and church was becoming less and less impressive to me.
It felt like a decision point in my life to either throw out everything I had been taught and walk away from God because of the junk I was seeing in church, or to actually live out what the Bible seems to indicate is a disciple of Christ. I’m grateful I chose the latter, only it wasn’t that hard. It seemed natural because that’s the direction my parents lived. My parents aren’t perfect, and they’re the first to tell you that, but one thing they have done well is showing us what it means to be a disciple of Christ and as I’ve watched them, I wanted that.
My frustrations with church weren’t about reacting and getting away from things that hurt—but about finding true life and living in it. From a young age, I’ve seen a lot of different types of Christianity and much of it tends to be lifeless. Sometimes it’s lifeless traditionalism, and sometimes it’s lifeless progressivism. I believe it’s possible to truly follow Christ and have a church filled with His Spirit and accomplishing the burdens and God’s heart and that’s my passion. I’ve been blessed to have mentors and friends of various stripes an example of that kind of discipleship to me.
A Move to the Intercity
In 2008, my family moved to Los Angeles, California to start a church plant. My Dad had visited LA numerous times and developed a vision for one day having a church in the heart of LA. When our family took a sabbatical in 2005, we spent three months in Southern California. It was fun to go someplace none of my friends had ever been to before, but I didn’t have a clue that three years later I would call it home.
I was seventeen and gaining a place in my youth group. I had a good group of friends and we did a lot together. Two things we often did were play softball and hockey.
I loved sports! Still do, in many ways. But back then, sports was my identity. I played on the local high school varsity baseball team. They called me “Dashmaster” because I was the fastest guy on the team. Anchored center field, and was good at it.
I also played a lot of casual hockey. My friends and I would get together regularly throughout the winters and play. I found a lot of fulfillment in playing sports and being one of the best. It gave me confidence, even if it bloated my ego.
When we moved to Los Angeles, it was just our family in a sea faces we didn’t recognize. Out there, they played sports I had no clue how to play, such soccer and basketball. The first year and a half out there was one of the hardest years of my life. I kept up with friends as best I could, but when you’re not around each other you eventually draw apart. There’s nothing wrong with that, it was just hard to experience as a seventeen year old.
A couple of years after we moved, I attended Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute for two six week terms and their three week choir tour. I loved my time at SMBI, and made many good friends. But when that was over, they all went back to Lancaster County (or Holmes County) and I went way out to LA.
Later that year, I went through a broken dating relationship that really shook my life. God used that experience to bring a lot of things to a head and deepen my relationship with Him.
First of all, it was the final straw that needed pulled in me surrendering my life to Him. I was so frustrated that “my life,” as I knew it in Northern Minnesota, had fallen apart, and now He “took away” a relationship that I really wanted. At that point, I was done fighting. I was broken.
Secondly, something about feeling like I couldn’t impress a girl exposed how I had an identity centered on those I could impress. It was that way with sports, music—almost everything I did. The broken relationship broke my pride.
Lastly, through the broken relationship I discovered a lot of unresolved issues in my own heart. One of those had to do with my relationship with Dad.
Pastors and their sons aren’t supposed to struggle in their relationship, right? The reality is the often do. And Dad and I did. In November of 2010 I met with a counselor friend of our family and what God did in those three days radically changed my relationship with Dad. Not that everything has been fixed, but I have found freedom from bitterness that I harbored for years.
I wrote about this journey in sorting through the difficult things of my relationship with Dad and published it as an eBook, which you can receive for free here.
God teaches us the most valuable lessons through brokenness. Sometimes we are mature enough to be broken before Him and He is able to teach us. Other times, He needs to break us first. I don’t think that is the only reason God has people go through suffering, but as I look back on the pain of moving away from friends and then experiencing a broken relationship, I see that as a season of life God was breaking me.
Learning to Serve
As He broke my pride and hard heart, I discovered a deeper relationship with Him. He also gave a heart of service.
It wasn’t long after my break-up that we met a homeless man in the park. Unlike many of the homeless men we have ministered to, this guy was my age. Just a couple years older. He was homeless because he had a problem with drinking ever since he was thirteen years old. Dad helped him get into the Teen Challenge program and each week he would have chapel with all the guys. There were maybe sixteen young men apart of this particular Teen Challenge.
After a while, Dad asked if I would like to come with him to chapels and lead worship. I was beginning to do more of that in church and so I said I would enjoy it. Each week I took my guitar and led worship songs before Dad had chapel.
I also began “mentoring,” of sort, two teenage guys from the kids club we had started that year. That was one of the most stretching experiences, and also most rewarding, that I have ever experienced.
In 2011, I attended a mission’s training school, called the Institute for Global Opportunities, in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The eight months I spent in Thailand proved to be mile markers in my journey toward discovering what God’s calling on my life is. It’s there that I realized I enjoy teaching and a vision developed to get involved in education some way or another.
Marriage, Tragedy, and Major Decisions
I also met my wife, Teresa, at IGo. I was never going to marry someone I met at Bible school. It always repulses me a bit when I get sense that someone is at Bible school to find a partner—I wasn’t going to be that way. But this young lady, Miss Miller, kept sticking out to me. It took some extra nudging from God, mentors and family, but I eventually asked her out. We were married eight months later.
Four days after my Mother was tragically killed in a car accident.
During the months that followed our wedding, rather than being an excited young groom on cloud nine with his bride, Teresa lived with a depressed man wanting to sleep life away. How do you handle the mixed emotions of the joy of getting married and pain from losing your Mom? Three years later I can look back and see God’s faithfulness, but that first year of marriage was excruciatingly stressful and I still don’t know exactly how to talk about it all. I wrote more about that year here.
The best surprise of our life came when we discovered Teresa was pregnant. A few months later we were asked to go teach at Victory Christian School in Thailand. I read somewhere a list of stressors and how if we had experienced any of them in the last year we should not make any major decisions. Among the top ten were recently getting married, recently having your first child, recently having moved to a new community (true for Teresa), and recently losing a loved one (one of the top three).
What were we supposed to do?
Many books like to give formulas—some people live as if life is a formula to be followed. I do not recommend necessarily making big decisions when incredibly stressful things have recently taken place, and I certainly don’t recommend making those decisions very fast. But God transcends formulas. You and I cannot control what happens to us, whether we go through stressors or whether we are forced to make a big decisions. But all we really need to control is whether or not we take such events to God—He’s a perfect communicator. He will guide us.
While the decision wasn’t necessarily easy for us to make, we have full confidence God led us to the right decision even if we were super stressed. For the last year and a half we have been in Thailand teaching at Victory Christian School.
The Burden behind This Blog
I don’t consider myself a traditionalist, but I deeply care about faithfulness to God and to His Word. My generation, like every generation does at some point, is in the middle of sorting through new challenges. One of the challenges we face is that Christianity at a multigenerational level has become more form and theory than actuality. We are hungry for authenticity. For realness. For living out in love rather than dogmatically expositing in word.
Many of us are going to be tempted to throw out the old out and come up with something new. Others won’t really care and just sing the same tune that’s always been sung only without any personal conviction. I believe there is a better way. A way that others have traveled, but few. A way not of politics and people pleasing, but neither of disrespect and reaction. The things I share on this blog are glimpses into that way, they are the results of reflection, counsel and personal Bible Study. What I write comes from a short life of meaningful experiences. Meaningful because it’s not just cliché, not just joyous, not just what’s always been done, but rather it’s weathered, thought and prayed through, and seen in others much godlier than I.