When I was three years old, my dad chose drugs over his family. He chose drugs over his son. Many people think that growing up in Southern California looks like Laguna Beach or something from an MTV show. That wasn’t my life and it is not the life of most kids who grow up in this sunny region of America. Growing up with a single mom was not that weird, at first. My mom had a decent job when I was younger and, with my aunt and uncle living in the same apartment complex growing up, it never felt lonely.
When my aunt, uncle, and cousins all moved, it felt like my world was turning upside down. I suddenly became acutely aware of the fact that I was an only child with a single mom who worked a lot to put food on the table and to keep the lights on. That’s when I started looking for answers. You see, growing up, I had been told that there was a god but that was it. I was not given more information than that. To further obfuscate this area of my life was the way that some people treated my single mom. I guess, in the early 90’s, being a single mom still meant that you were a pariah. So, needless to say, my experience with the Creator was limited to church-hopping episodes and the occasional class with a traveling ministry at school. We met in a white school bus, sang songs, and colored on wooden angels. I was learning how to color inside the lines all for the sake of Jesus! Not really.
Fast forward to high school and suddenly I am surrounded by Christians and Catholics. Anyone could have scooped me up at that time, but the church that stood out to me was the Catholic Church. Blame it on the incense, the tradition, or the fact that my priest had a sweet Irish accent. Whatever it was, I wanted it because I thought I would finally have answers. One sprinkle baptism and a Holy Communion later, I was no closer to Jesus than when I had started.
The Navy really changed things…for better and for worse. I joined the Navy out of high school because I did not do well in school. Really, that is an understatement. I was the kind of kid who got A’s and B’s growing up, but in high school I discovered things that seemed more important: being catholic, drinking, girls, and music. Yep, I joined a band and thought that I would make it in the “hardcore” metal scene. After nearly failing out of high school, I was left with the two options that every kid dreams about: community college or the military…so much for law school.
Joining the Navy did some really great things in my life. I realized just how thankful I was for my mom, my grandparents, and my family. I started maturing, but I was still someone who hated God. I lived a life filled with drinking, promiscuity, and partying. It was cool, though, because I was “serving my country.” What’s wrong with drinking at age 19 and acting like a fool, right? I was transferred to Virginia where I was invited to a local mega-church. Though this church is not a place I would attend or recommend today, I was still saved, in spite of all that it taught (or didn’t teach).
I do not have a date for when God ripped out my heart of stone and replaced it with a beating heart of flesh; However, I do remember a trajectory… a very painful trajectory in which God was doing a mighty work in my life. I was keenly aware of my depravity, my wretchedness, and my need for a Savior. Yet, I still struggled with my sins. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) I had this same thought as the Apostle Paul and it seemed like a cry that would go unheard. I was a confident, outgoing, and outspoken man, all of the things that stamped you with leadership potential in most evangelical churches today. However, more importantly, I was a sinner who needed guidance, discipleship, and accountability…not leadership. My church at the time gave me leadership that I did not deserve but I will not put the full weight of my sin on them…that was all on me. I was being sanctified by the Spirit of God, yet my flesh was still crying out in rebellion. After moving to another church (thinking my problems would be solved), I met a military chaplain who spoke like nobody I had heard before. There were two distinct moments in my life that jarred me into reality. Listening to Paul Washer’s “Shocking Youth Message” and my Naval Chaplain discussing the holiness of God. He started a weekly Bible study at work where we studied scripture and books like “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer. He challenged me on the concept of God’s sovereignty and gave me a book to read by R.C Sproul, “Chosen by God”.
Reformed Theology is, to me, another name for biblical theology. I became more aware of the holiness of God and just how small I was in this world that He created. That may sound like a bad thing, but my goodness did it take the weight off of my shoulders! I was responsible for my sin and my evil, yet God was in control of my salvation and He would not let go of me! I joined a local Reformed Baptist church and God used that church, the pastor, elders, and fellow members as a means to get me out of the “cage-stage” Calvinist mentality. I started to truly desire God’s glory, holiness, and the propagation of the Gospel!
Through my painful sanctification process, I met my beautiful wife. She became my confidante, my best friend (girl best friend…don’t freak out Daniel), and, eventually, my wife. It has been a journey, but by God’s grace, I can say, with Paul:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:1-10.
Soli Deo Gloria!