I remember playing basketball one time when I was probably 12 or 13, and a man handed me a tract, which talked about things like sin and judgment, as well as Jesus and forgiveness. We joke no one ever reads those, but I did. It made me think.
When I was in high school, I started to do some reading on various religions. I took a humanities class where we spent a quarter going over comparative religion. It was an interesting experience. At the time, Judaism made a lot of sense to me. The idea of a loving God who created the world and who made people resonated with me. But I didn’t understand why you also needed some bearded guy in a loincloth.
While the studying and the discussions were valuable, I thought that if I was ever going to seriously explore faith, that I needed to actually witness religious services.
I kept putting it off. I told myself I’d go “when I got older” or “when I got my driver’s license.” It’s interesting how there always seems to be a good reason to not have time to pursue faith.
But I continued to procrastinate until my senior year.
One week, I decided “This Sunday, I’m going to go to church.” And I did. It was twelve years ago today. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was on a leap day. In hindsight, I feel that it was a good metaphor.
The first time I ever went to church, I went by myself. In years of talking to people, I realize that many people went to church for the first time because they (a) were invited by a friend, or (b) were dragged there by family. My route was a bit more unconventional than that, but I think I was too young and naive to realize as much.
I was nervous as I pulled into the parking lot and walked into the church alone. The people were friendly enough. A middle aged man greeted me with a warm smile and shook my hand. I thought, “I bet he’s the pastor…” (he wasn’t).
I don’t remember very much about that morning. I do remember that I was more dressed up than most of the people in attendance. For the first year and a half that I went to church, I almost always wore a suit because I thought that was “what Christians did.”
While the recollections of that Sunday are sparse, I guarantee that I would have never dreamed that I would eventually be where I am today; in graduate school, working on a Master of Divinity degree from one of the best seminaries in the country.
My initial plan when I started going to church was to visit a new place each week. The first church I went to was, logically, the closest church to my house. It was a Presbyterian Church and I liked it. And so I went back the next week. And again the next week. And the next week. I can’t remember a specific moment when I felt that I had faith, but it was within those first few weeks that it became real to me.
Part of my initial plan had also been to explore lots of different churches. In the first year, I went to everything from Methodist, to Catholic, to Lutheran, to Quaker, to Mormon, to Vineyard, to Baptist, to non-denominational churches. Many Sundays, I’d go to two services.
When I moved away to college, I was initially very involved in church and Bible studies. I regret that same fervor wouldn’t last throughout the duration of college. I never stopped believing, but I feel that I definitely had times where I wasn’t living a life that reflected my faith.
I believe that if a person TRULY has faith and is truly saved by the gospel, regardless of what he does or how far he may fall, that he will always ultimately return. The sheep might get lost for a season, but he will ultimately always find his way back to the shepherd.
From the first time I ever set foot in a church until now, I would have never predicted the paths my life would lead me down, but I believe that they have led me to being exactly where I need to be at this point in my life. Now, three leap days later, I find myself in my last semester of the Master of Divinity program at one of the best seminaries in the world.
I’m thankful for faith and for all of the wonderful friends and people who are in my life now who weren’t three leap years ago, for the friends who have joined me in the journey.
More information on the photo can be found at: http://www.evernote.com/shard/s77/sh/06052c24-68d6-4da9-839b-e619b0f1775d/9534a4736c7c95baff43c8bd2e98eab3