As my life continued, I found myself at a new college in the fall of 2000. I had dropped below my required GPA to remain with my scholarship, so I transferred to a new school and hoped to have something of a new start to my life after so many tumultuous events prior.
I pursued the faith that I had come back to after two years of fleeing from it. Though there were ups and downs in the days preceding East Tennessee State, I was being led forward by the Spirit in His so mysterious providence. I eventually began attending a Baptists church just before Spring of 2001. Here I was shaped in the college ministry and through its minister discovered my love for philosophy. I had also become involved with Campus Crusade for Christ during this time. I had made some good friends and was growing in my oh so small faith.
Another of my major turning points in life occurred in late 2001 when I purchased a book called Christianity for Modern Pagans. It was a brief commentary by Peter Kreeft on Blaise Pascal's Pensees. I was actually drawn to the book because I had chosen the name Pascal for my French classes (this was because I had a love for math and remembered that he had been a mathematician). Little did I know that he was also a great apologist for the faith. His "thoughts" about Christianity came to shape my understanding of my problem in life. I was obsessed with distraction. I didn't want to think about my sin and so filled my life with trivial things. Little did I know the future impact that this would have on me! I also fell in love Peter Kreeft for opening my eyes to such an important figure in the faith. I owe much to him and Pascal for my perseverance in understanding our Lord.
One of the struggles that I underwent for years was finding someone to whom I could express love to. This eventually happened in the Spring of 2002. However, the idea of romantic relationships was the last thing on her list. And so, I was thrown into a struggle with my faith...What was I to do. I spent the summer on a mission project with Campus Crusade in Daytona Beach. Here I became aware of my need to be involved in others lives more deeply than just telling them the Gospel. Outsiders eyes were on me! The need for faithfulness was hugely important in so many ways. I worked that summer at a little grocery store and strove to be a faithful witness not so much through conversation, i.e. I'm a Christian, do you know Jesus, but through working hard and being real in front of my co-workers. I remember some of the not knowing what to think of me when I asked if I was allowed to take a smoke break! The ones that I asked joined me that day and often did after that.
Being in Daytona continued to affirm what I felt was a call to the ministry in many ways. I learned a great deal while there, but most importantly, learned that character matters above all else and also a forgiving disposition that is often seen, but rarely spoken about. In many ways, I learned that much of the Christian life has to be demonstrated before spoken of because if spoken of too quickly, one's warts get in the way of the hearers wanting to listen!
The girl that my affections had fallen upon would eventually become my wife, but that is for another time. The movements of our relationship were hugely impactful in so many ways! A major point that I remember was when we were not speaking to each other because we were not sure what was to come of any relationship between us. I was with my best friend and I was trying to explain the deep pain that I was in. Ashton was hugely sympathetic, but I don't quite think that he grasped what was going on inside my own psyche...I had become massively introspective at the time. Let me explain:
We are all aware of the things around us, right? I am aware of this keyboard and the computer in front of me. I am aware that I am thinking right now. However, if we reflect, we can realize that we are aware of our awareness of the things that we doing and thinking. I think that when we stop doing so many things, we often enter into this realm of thought. We are simply aware that we are aware. It is a strange feeling. However, at this time in my life, I had unfortunately moved past this this awareness of awareness...I had move into a morbid self-introspection; one that I think of as an awareness of my awareness of my awareness. Isn't that a mouthful?? Basically, it was a sense of extreme questioning of everything that I did. I couldn't just do something without questioning my motives, which led to a questioning of why I was questioning my motives. It was quite a quagmire that I had found myself in. It was also a deeply depressing situation that I couldn't seem to escape.
I'm not really sure of how I escaped it. I'm not really sure if I have fully escaped my morbid self-introspection or not. Either way, I don't really do it anymore. I think that I finally broke and realized that to do this would eventually lead to a questioning of God's actually working in my life in any way. It would also mean that my awareness of my improvement and knowledge of the purity of my reasons for doing things was a basis for my knowledge of God's mercy toward me. That makes this kind of self-introspection of the devil. It was self-defeating and impossible to overcome on my own strength.
Eventually, even out of this the Lord carried me.
To change gears, I must also recount my abhorrence toward all things Calvinistic. I do admit, that I was at one time a staunch anti-Calvinist. I would not have allowed myself to be called an Arminian, but I couldn't stomach much of anything with the taste of Calvinism. What changed that? At one point in my schooling, actually in the year 2004, I found myself attending a tiny Bible college as a possible way for me to complete my schooling and move on to something else. Ironically (if there is such a thing in the Lord's sovereignty), it was a staunchly Presbyterian school, i.e. extremely Calvinstic in all things. How I ended up here is only the Lord's doing.
I only stayed there for most of a semester. I sadly didn't complete even that much, but the Lord did introduce me more thoroughly to a "compassionate" Calvinism. This ultimately came out in a Bible study with some friends. I actually argued for predestination, which shocked them. I'm not really sure why at the end of the day, maybe it was that I had never really talked much about it at that point, but I couldn't avoid it because it was a part of the text that I was teaching on that night. Was I convinced of all things Calvin? No, most certainly not, but I certainly began to develop something of a healthy ecumenism that night, one that recognized the legitimate foundations of other theological systems. The Lord was truly working in me!
At this point in time, I believe that I had become involved in my roommate's church, which was a small Fellowship of Grace Brethren church. I had long ago left the Baptist church after an unfortunate reference to not being able to fully trust anything about the King James (though not really castigating all other translations, only a few as it was in the midst of the TNIV controversy) and the questionableness of Harry Potter as a Christian....
I actually became quite involved in this church. I was part of the worship team and eventually given the lead on occasion before basically taking over as the assistant minister came to have other things to do. I got to lead a new believers class and even sort of became a deacon. I tell this story and other stuff tomorrow.
What can I say now? In all the events that I described, I can't deny a sovereign hand at work in guiding me. I had discovered philosophy, apologetics, and the deep importance of not being distracted from the Lord (whether through willful sin or morbid self-introspection that focuses more on me than God). In many ways, these are the things that I want to bring out for people to see. They are treasures that God has given to me to give to others. I find highly important the self-introspection bit...I learned that my obsession with it was highly dangerous because all of the focus was on me. I was too concerned with dealing with my motives and my reactions to others. I quit thinking about living in light of God's leading based upon His promises and focused on whether or not I could move past my faults and reactions.
It is too easy to get caught in this distraction especially in a church culture that puts a huge amount of focus on improving yourself with whatever 10 steps have been gleaned from the Bible. I suppose that some would say that I have become too comfortable with myself as a sinner, but, after all, isn't that what we all are?? While we are saints in Christ, we still remain sinners in ourselves. All that we do bears the marks of Adam and we can't change that. All my motives at the core are marred and bent out of shape, whether I fully realize it or not. In many ways, my awareness of awareness of awareness was a sick realization of how sinful I am and in need of a Savior. However, it was utterly unhealthy because at the end of the day it denied the primary thing of faith: I am saved by grace through Christ who has forgiven me and even taken my sins away from me. He is at work to weed out those things in me now. I remain a sinner and will never have pure motives this side of the eschaton (that is, the new heavens and new earth). I can't remove that from my life, only Christ can. I must rest in His forgiveness and when I am too concerned about motives and actions, I am not concerned with what Christ has done.