A CHURCH FOUNDED ON JESUS’S LOVE
When my Christian friend from college met me at a Starbucks the week after we had attended a church in Orlando together, he asked me if I wanted a relationship with Jesus. I was hesitant because I didn’t completely understand what faith in Jesus meant. But, what I had gathered from visiting the church together was how different Christianity was from the Catholicism I had been raised around. The difference was significant enough to make me feel immediately welcomed; this church was a place I didn’t feel resistant to. The church we visited played invigorating Christian music and a pastor who was more passionate about speaking of the love of Jesus and His power to transform lives, and nothing about shame or guilt. This immediately grabbed my attention, considering what I had experienced the previous 10 years.
THE REAL JESUS
Growing up, my family had not prayed for anything other than our food before dinner, sometimes not even then. Our prayers, however, were not directed at Christ, but God—and I never really knew who the God was I was praying to. He was the one we prayed to, sure, but there was nothing personal about Him. That was the main difference between the anonymous God that I grew up not taking seriously and this Jesus Christ of the Bible… I had never understood Him, nor had I cared to. Now that Jesus’s true nature was being revealed to me through this new church and my Christian friend, I was beginning to see not a religion with rules and rituals, but a man with morals, humility, feelings, intentions, thoughts, experiences, integrity—and Lordship. But it wasn’t so much the Lordship of Christ that drew me in at the beginning as much as His humanity.
“Yes,” I told my friend. I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into, but I wasn’t signing any contracts or giving away my social security number. I was going to discover more of who Jesus was, and go from there.
WITNESSING JESUS’S IMPACT
Nothing happened right away. Faith came in gradual steps and moments; conversations, Bible studies, questions and answers, prayer, and time spent getting to know the stories of the Bible with more context. I had never even known there were “translations” of the Bible and that certain translations made the Bible easier to follow without changing the meaning or significance of a single story inside. That intrigued me. When my Christian friend (and my roommate at the time) helped me find a Bible translation which was easier for me to read (It was the NIV at the time), he also helped explain what I was reading based on Bible studies he’d had with spiritual mentors of his own. His stories were insightful and sometimes playful and funny. I could see my friend had developed a healthy relationship with Jesus, and so his genuine mix of humility and confidence were striking. My thoughts became, “Is this what it’s like to know Jesus?” The anger of my previous 10 years was beginning to subside, and a deeper-rooted understanding was taking its place. I was beginning to realize that the message about the Bible that I thought I knew as an atheist was either based on distortions I had gathered along the way, or they were assumptions I’d made based on the limited scope of an understanding of the stories I had read with people focused more on guilt, shame, and repentance than on love, mercy, forgiveness, and healing.
MORALITY AND LUST
Like I mentioned in Part 1, I turned to lust when all else failed to soothe my pain. When I learned about Jesus and His integrity, as well as His teachings, I came to realize that the way I was desiring women was very misplaced. Not so much that I viewed them as sexual objects, but I viewed women as though they were the solution to my problems; my emotional problems. With Jesus, I learned faith is the solution to a dead life. When I applied what this meant to my life, many things changed. One of the changes was that I recognized the way God loved women through Jesus, and that there was a call to love women the way Jesus loved the church (community of believers). This image of love was inviting, and clearly more healthy than my approach had been. It was a beautiful picture of what love should look like, and it was a reality I wanted to embrace as my own. That meant changing my thinking, my motives, and my perspective of pain and solutions.
This helped me, tremendously, to appreciate and admire women more than need them. While God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18) He did not add that man is incomplete without a woman. To me, that meant that God wanted us to have companionship, but He wasn’t suggesting that man needed a woman in order to be complete. Again, all of this changed my view of women—whereas before they were the solution to my pain, now they were people who I respected, admired, and wanted to see more with the eyes of God.
HEALING FATHER WOUNDS
When I first brought up my new faith to my dad, he too had found Christianity from another church in Michigan. I was shocked and pleased, because for the first time in my entire life, we related to something meaningful and intrinsic. Also, for the longest time, my dad and I didn’t really speak for more than once every few months. But that changed to once every couple of weeks during my slow transition into becoming Christian. I wanted to know that my dad had Jesus, and I wanted to develop an emotionally deep relationship with him in ways we had missed out on during my adolescence. Over the course of almost 8 years, we have come a long way, and we are much closer now than we ever were before I left Michigan to go to college.
A SON’S LOVE FOR HIS MOTHER
While growing up, I had looked up to my mom like a god because she was authoritarian, strict, and always seemingly knowledgeable. When I found Christ, I realized how powerless my mom had always been. Her emotional outbursts also became crystal clear to me; she hadn’t been upset because of me, but because of separate issues from far before I ever came along. When I grasped this truth, a weight was lifted off my shoulders, and instead of continuing to feel sorry for myself, I prayed that God would lift the weight off of her shoulders as well. My faith has also enabled me to see my mom in a healthier way, loving her where she is in every aspect of her life, rather than feeling tormented by our differences.
I’ve prayed, so many times, for Him to show Himself to her in a way that would soften her heart and help her to see, feel, and intimately experience His love for her in a way she couldn’t miss. Up to this day, I continue to pray. She has a stubborn heart, and I love her, truly and deeply for it. I continue imagining how much glory to God she would give if she aimed that stubbornness in the direction of passionately evangelizing about the love of Christ in her life.
THE BLESSING OF INNER-TRANSFORMATION
After learning that Jesus was a wise, personal, loving, intelligent, spiritual, knowledgeable man with incredible insight and presence, I had to know more. What I can tell you is the more I’ve discovered, the more I can’t help but want more.
Ultimately, the pain I experienced that led me to my bathtub so many years ago has been replaced with a hope I can finally explain. I know Jesus is real because I’ve spoken with Him, experienced Him, and I continue to pursue my faith in Him because I understand now that He was working in me all along. I truly believe His love was pouring into my heart when I tried to kill myself and that that was what drew me from the water; that His hand scooping me out was His response to my screams for a reason not to die. I believe He didn’t want to lose me then, and that He doesn’t want to lose me now. I truly believe the divorce was His way of asking me to take faith seriously and to find Him in a way that would ensure I wasn’t “following the crowd,” but rather, choosing Him on my own accord.
Sometimes we find ourselves asking Him, “Couldn’t you have done that a little less drastically?” But, really, who are we to question God’s motives? If He can align all that is needed to maintain the universe from imploding or exploding, does He not also have the strength and foresight to know what we need and how we need it in order to mold us into our best selves? Would we really claim that we know any better?
THE NATURE OF CHRISTIANITY
Being a Christian doesn’t mean a person is perfect, and it doesn’t mean that a person knows everything. To me, being a Christian means putting my relationship with Jesus first and seeking Him when I forget to do that. Being a Christian means humbly pursuing Him and coming back to Him when I lose track of that pursuit. Christians are not perfect people who have decided to stop pursuing a life of denial, nor do we think we’re perfect because of our decision to accept Jesus; Christians are sinners who recognize their sin and acknowledge their need for a Messiah capable of and willing to extend mercy, grace, and love through sacrificing Himself in order to prevent us from experiencing the eternal judgment that we actually deserve.
THE POWER OF MERCY
This may be new for some of you, so please feel free to leave your thoughts in comments below if you have a different perspective which you would like to share. The way I view this is, we are all sinners—that is, we would all fall short of our purpose in Christ if we did not have Jesus’s mercy, and therefore no one would deserve anything but the consequence for their actions. However, because of Jesus’ mercy on us, His mercy says, “You’ve sinned, and it requires a debt (a consequence). But because I love you, I’ve taken your punishment upon myself and paid, with my life, the debt which you originally owed me. Now, you don’t have to worry about paying me back. Go and love others, living in the joy of knowing that you are debt-free.” That, to me, is mercy.
We can extend mercy to others on behalf of the mercy we receive from God through Jesus, but mercy requires forgiveness, grace, and love—and we do not have this power without God first extending it to us. I believe this is one of the fundamental differences between Christianity and any other faith. This is another massive part of the reason Christianity drew me in and continues to do so today.
A NEW JOY AND HOPE
I still fall and make mistakes constantly. But I believe what is important, both for me and any person willing to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, is that we can seek refuge in Him (Psalm 119:114) who has already experienced our consequence for us. We need to ask for His strength to move us to action, and to continually replenish our souls with hope and joy. To me, this is no longer cliché, because I’ve experienced what having faith in Jesus feels like in my mind, soul, and body.
If you have not experienced this, I hope and pray that by reading my testimony, you will feel encouraged to open yourself to Jesus and experiencing the fullness that comes with living in relationship with Him. Truly, faith in Jesus changes everything from the inside out: Our perspective of pain, our view of purpose in life, the meaning of everything large and small, and not needing to have all the answers.
MADE NEW IN CHRIST
After all that I’ve been through, Jesus words, “I am making all things new,” makes so much sense to me now. He made me new, starting at a soul level by giving me a purpose (writing). He made my relationship with my father new by connecting us through our faith; he made my relationship with my mom new by clarifying that only He is God—and by placing the desire in my heart for her to know His love the way I have come to know it. He even renewed my desire for love by providing the healthiest way to view women through His own eyes. I cannot imagine my life now without Jesus having intervened when He did. I was ready to die, but now I’m ready to live. So, without a doubt:
Trust Him, listen to him, love him, choose Him, and continually pray (speak) to Him. He will never forsake you.
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