For one of the classes I am teaching now, we are required to begin the class by “describ[ing] your experience with religion and/or Christianity (in three or four paragraphs)”. Here is what I wrote:
Knowing that “I am Jesus’ little lamb” (as a favorite hymn of mine says) has always been central to my identity. My parents passed on the faith they had received from their parents on to me and my brothers (two of them) through devotions, prayers, and songs. Their corresponding love and commitment to one another, their children, their families, their friends, and their churches never gave me any reason to question the truth about what they told me about the God-man Jesus, who they informed me lived the life I could not, and died the death I deserved, so that I could know Him now and forever. From my parents I actually learned that I was a sinner and unrighteous – but also that Jesus was the friend of sinners, and did not come for the righteous. I think my parents modeled this for me, as their unquestionable love covered over a multitude of my sins. I know that some people say that their personal experiences with family, for example, are one reason why believing in God is so difficult for them. I feel blessed to say that for me, the opposite is the case (although my parents, like all of us, certainly have their share of faults).
My faith in this man Jesus Christ was always important to me growing up, as I always felt myself drawn to His power, His strength of character, His kindness, and His radical claims. As I got older, I was quick to identify when people said things that contradicted what I believed to be true about Jesus and what He said (and what the Old Testament He trusted said). I probably had more questions than your average kid, and although I sometimes got partial answers I always wanted to learn more. In junior high and high school I read parts of the Bible here and there, and I think this undoubtedly had a big impact on me as well. I admit that I didn’t get into trouble much growing up, as I was always seen as a “good kid” (nice to all, good student, responsible, etc.), but from time to time, I would experience the conviction that my thoughts and actions were not pleasing to God (and would repent, fall again, repent, etc.) Nevertheless, despite the conviction that God had worked in and through my family (and by extension, myself), by the time I finished high school, I had started to have even more questions, even beginning to doubt my faith (especially how it, with its exclusive claims, related to other world religions). My high school youth group, although it had provided a wonderful regular place to meet up with some like-minded friends, rarely took up the kinds of questions (scientific, moral, and philosophical) that I had at that time. It was more about forming good relationships, fun, and games.
In college, my doubts about faith continued to build until I met up with a group of Christians who actually seemed to have good answers to my questions – and I realized that I was not committing intellectual suicide by clinging to that which had been so precious to me ever since I could remember. These folks were also pretty vigorous about sharing their faith in Jesus Christ, or their “personal relationship with Jesus” as they liked to put it. It was at this point that I started reading my Bible quite a bit again, and at this time in my life, the words took on a new relevance and meaning for me – probably because I felt like I had begin to more fully experience some of the things the Bible talked about, particularly in the letters of St. Paul. By the time I finished college, my faith in Christ – and the corresponding purpose I felt as His disciple – had taken on new meaning for me. Also at this time, I had a bit of a struggle figuring out what kind of Christian I was – I’d been baptized as a baby, but since my faith had been taken to another level (I never denied that I had not had a true faith before), should I get re-baptized? My father, a Lutheran pastor, convinced me to remain Lutheran even though I attended an evangelical church all through college.
About a year after graduation, I ended up teaching English as a Second Language, Biology, and Religion (even though I did not have a degree in this at the time) at a Lutheran High School in Slovakia (in the heart of Europe) that had been closed for 60 years during the reign of communism. It was a wonderful experience, and here, I not only met my wife (who is from Minnesota, not Slovakia : ) ), but learned much more about my faith and the Christian faith in general. It was here that the person in charge of the missionary activities of the Lutheran Church (Missouri-Synod) in Europe asked me if I’d like to study theology for a year in Cambridge, England (after he talked with me and probably figured out that, with all my questions, I needed some real help!). I decided to do that and got on the road to becoming a pastor, but, uncertain about my sense of calling, dropped out of seminary before being ordained (but not before getting a theology degree). Ever since that intensive time of studying the Christian faith, my desire to learn more about my faith has increased, and I do quite a bit of reading. I really enjoy reading the Scriptures, Church history, Christian apologetics (that is the defense of the faith), as well as other works in history, science and philosophy by both Christian and non-Christian authors. But – more than anything, I like to come back to the simple things: being like a little child, as Jesus says. I am awed that I really am Jesus’ little lamb… that He is actually the friend of sinners like me, a Christian who fails and falls time and again. So now, as I tuck my kids into bed, I sing the faith to them as well, hoping that when they are older, they too, will never be ashamed to proclaim, that they too, are Jesus’ little lamb.