I never thought much of my testimony because it was my norm. People tend to share bits and pieces of their history with folks, but it rarely goes beyond surface level, but I believe in the power of transparency and vulnerability. I believe that God does great things when people show themselves for who they really are because “power is perfected in weakness” and according to Paul, we should prefer to boast in our weaknesses so that the power of Christ can dwell in us (2 Corinthians 12:9). So maybe it’s the right time to do just that.
Many that I share life with at this point are aware of my history with education, but it goes beyond the few sentences that I typically offer up. In truth, some of my problems stretched back to the type of Christianity that I sought out. When I was a teenager, I found Christianity, and even becoming a pastor one day, enticing because of a pastor who invested in my life and I so valued that relationship that I hoped to live the rest of my life having the same impact on others. In the rear-view mirror, it was incredibly self-seeking and, in fact, anti-Christian, because it had little to nothing to do with my brokenness, my need for a Savior, and my desire to share that experience with others and had everything to do with finding a profession that would be most fulfilling to me.
Finding that “Christianity” that was self-seeking and consumeristic led me to ignore Christ’s continual call on my life to live, not for a profession, but for this God whose goodness was beyond my comprehension. It led me down dark paths of anger and frustration at others who didn’t live like I thought they should. What Jesus was presenting as freedom was being taken into my hands and marred beyond recognition to something that harmed others and actually made God look like a horrible tyrant.
Then, I went to Bible college. If anyone was unprepared to dive further into true Christianity, it was one like myself who refused to see the face of Jesus and instead, focused on the cultural and unbiblical version of this religion. Because of this, I spiraled. It began with skipping class and ignoring all responsibilities and ended in suicidal ideation. I dropped out of school, lost multiple jobs, a decent number of friends, and a tremendous amount of trust from those who remained in my life. The level of hopelessness that I felt was unlike anything I could imagine. The amount of time, experiences, and life that is lived over the span of a few years can seem short or long, depending on the person’s perspective, but for someone in that level of darkness, a single night of hopelessness is impossibly long. Those were the nights that I lived those few years.
I couldn’t get past my mistakes and my failures. I couldn’t show my face in front of others who knew that I went off to college to “change the world” and “be God’s hands and feet” because I would have to explain my change of circumstances and how everything I had pretended to be was a lie. And that was the foundation of my problems – I was met with the truth that every ounce of value that I received was found in who I was, how I thought, how I lived, what I accomplished, and what potential I had. When all of those things slipped through my hands, I had nothing left and therefore, I had nothing to live for any longer. I couldn’t undo what had been done and the truth that I was unable to redeem those mistakes or create hope for myself was suffocating. I was in trouble.
It’s interesting to piece together what we understand about God and how we come to certain conclusions. For me, miracles had always been some instantaneous moment in which God decides to intervene in our lives – in the amount of time that it takes to snap your the finger – and then suddenly the scales fall away and you can see clearly. That’s not what happened to me. For me, God worked over the span of the last decade, miraculously, but slowly, putting building blocks back in place (Psalm 127:1a). All that I had pieced together in horribly unhealthy ways had been burnt to the ground, and yet, He steadily helped me by building things back in the way He chose to.
And that daily experience with Him really does smack of the miraculous because there is the possibility that I would not be alive, each of these individual days, breathing and able to see Him working – seeing His actions and through the lives of others who I desperately needed throughout that time. That is why I cannot boast in myself. If it were only up to me, I would not be here today. I boast in Him because I now, literally, have the opportunity I might have given up to type each of these words and speak of His greatness. That is why I am a Christian.
I should take a moment to ask for forgiveness from all of those who I hurt in the days I misunderstood what this faith is about. I’m sorry for those that I demeaned and for those that received judgment rather than hope. I’m sorry for those that walked away from me hurting instead of having been offered the love of my God. I’m sorry for those that I encouraged to follow down the wrong path. I want to make clear to anyone in this camp who may ever be reading these words, by some other miracle, that Christianity can be misrepresented, as I did. You did not receive the authentic Christianity.
The authentic Christianity is the one focused on Jesus Christ’s ability to forgive me when I couldn’t forgive myself for my past (Psalm 103:10-14). It’s one where He changed my life because I was powerless to do so (2 Corinthians 5:17). It’s one where He comforted me when I knew the comfort I needed was impossible to find on my own (2 Corinthians 1:3-4; Matthew 11:28-30). It’s one where He delivered me when hope was out of my grasp (Colossians 1:13-14). It’s one where He protected me despite myself (Psalm 3:3). It’s one where He healed me when I was desperately sick (Ephesians 2:4-5). It’s one where He counseled me when the voices I heard in my head drove me down into the depths of desperation (John 10:10). It’s one where He loves us enough to redeem the unredeemable and reconcile us to Himself when reconciliation seems impossible (Isaiah 44:22). It’s one where He opposes the proud, which I was, but takes in the vulnerable, which I became when my pride couldn’t hold up any longer (James 4:6).
So, for those who wonder, why do I call myself a Christian despite the horrific things that are done in its name? I call myself a Christian because it’s not about the movement and it’s not about power. It’s not about pushing an agenda or protecting my interests. It’s about a God who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that I ask or think in this broken mind of mine (Ephesians 3:20). It’s because I know the divine Being who cares enough about my brokenness to take my pain, which stained every aspect of who I was, and He washed me clean (Isaiah 1:18). It’s because I now live in the Light of who He is, rather than in the darkness I didn’t even recognize as I stumbled through it (Isaiah 59:10; John 8:12). It’s because the Christianity that I had convinced myself was its true form shattered at the feet of its Author. It’s because I, this prideful, selfish, and consumeristic person, have been given the strength to boast in my weakness because I’ve seen Something far better.
Please seek this God out. Whether you have no interest in a god or religious system, or you believe yourself to be a devoted follower of this God, ensure that you understand Him to be the pure and unadulterated version of Himself that He is, unstained from all forms of man-made systems. He is the same today as He was in eternity past (Hebrews 13:8). He didn’t become this incredible God because Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion, nation, or political system of thought made Him into their likeness. He is perfect in every way and has been since before He created mankind in His own likeness (Psalm 90:2). Please follow that God. When you see Him for who He truly is, you’ll realize the version of “God” you thought was correct was a mere idol and the new chapter of your life you’ll be living is far more worth it than you could have ever imagined. Take my word for it.
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff