A confession: being a Christian is still unnatural to me. Ten years of walking with Jesus has not yet eroded the bewilderment I feel over my own conversion. There is still an enduring and awkward astonishment I feel about my journey to faith. From the vantage point of this world, I am an unlikely believer. I remember, as a new campus missionary meeting with potential donors from my hometown, I needed to spend as much time legitimizing my own conversion as sharing about the ministry to which I sensed God calling me. The people weren’t rude. They were just surprised (like me). I wasn’t from the right family. I didn’t have the right church background. I didn’t have the proper training or education. What I had instead was a story.
I had a story of God meeting me in pages of Scripture as I read the New Testament over and over as a lost and restless high schooler. A story of God showing me the emptiness of my pursuits as a college freshman. A story of God giving me the words to say as I prayed a prayer of surrender beside my bed- a prayer that I knew would change the trajectory of my life. A story of God leading me to exchange my dreams of status and significance for a calling to obscurity and servanthood (in ministry). All I had was a story.
On Sunday night, during our worship service, as I watched a video of my wife and closest friends affirming my calling to be a pastor, and I heard godly men speak of my qualification for the role, the shock and bewilderment rose up within me again. I thought: “Really? Me? A pastor? I don’t have the right past, the right training, the right pedigree.” A part of me wanted to resist the affirmation, deny it, explain it away. And so as I sat there I struggled to embrace the encouragement as coming not primarily from these people but from God himself.
Then I remembered the story. I thought back to the undeniable work God has done in my life. I recalled the transformation of my soul that has unfolded over the last ten years. And I remembered that I lay claim to none of that work. That change was not precipitated by me and it is not sustained by me. From eternity past God wrote the story of my life. He shares none of my bewilderment and shock and awkwardness. The decision to follow Christ. The decision to join h2o church as a college senior. The decision to join staff. The decision to join a church plant to Kent State. It all was orchestrated by God before any of it came to pass. So why do I feel what I do? Here is my best answer: Because the call to follow Christ is a call to become like Christ, the tension will always remain. What I am becoming is not what I am (or was). It’s something (actually, someone) outside of myself, utterly different. God’s aim is not to clean me up and make me look a little more presentable to Him; it’s to make Jesus come alive through me. This is why Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
Jesus said that to find life, you must lose it (Matthew 10:39). Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:10, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed through our body.” As long as the Father is making me like the Son by the power of the Spirit, the awkwardness and tension will remain. I am daily dying to myself so that Jesus may shine through. This will always be unnatural, for though I am new in Christ, the remnants of the old persist. The in-breaking of the new (Jesus) will always be a shock (and an offense) to the old. The extent of the transformation God wants to work is so great that it will always be unnatural to us. We, who are mortal and broken and sinful, are called to become like the One who is immortal, perfect, and glorious.
God gets glory when He looks at us and sees his Son- even if in incomplete and broken fashion. I felt appropriately humbled at my ordination service as I remembered that it is Christ himself who has written the story of my life. And he hasn’t just written it. He is it. In the end it’s not a story about me; it’s a story of a God who humbly shares himself with us. For now, we are like him in only a fractured, not-yet-finished way, but someday in a complete and glorious way… the day we see him face-to-face. (1 John 3:2).