As a rule, Lutherans aren’t big on testimonials. I know that other “flavors” of Christianity like it when people tell their faith stories, but for Lutherans, we get a little hesitant when it comes to anything that smacks of egocentrism (and please understand, by saying that, I’m not saying that every testimony is egocentric; we just tend to get nervous when the focus shifts from what God does to what we perceive we’ve done). Part of the other reason is because of our understanding of faith, salvation, and especially baptism. I mean, technically, if I were to talk about how I “came to the faith,” the story would be that my parents brought me to the baptismal fount when I was an infant and the Lord adopted me as His child.
And no, you’re not going to convince me otherwise about the infant baptism thing.
At the same time, though, I’m feeling like bucking the trend a little. See, there was a moment that helped define my faith for me and gave me a deeper understanding of what being a child of God is all about. And in some ways, it influenced a part of Numb, my third novel. So buckle in, folks, and come with me as we go back to my life as a high schooler.
Church was always a part of my life, being a pastor’s son and all, but it wasn’t until my teenage years that it really “became real” for me. Things started to click, but at the same time, I sort of got stuck on mountaintops.
Do you know what I’m talking about? For whatever reason, because of what you’re experiencing, you feel so close to God, it’s like He’s right there. You’re buoyed up by a euphoric feeling that’s like fire in your veins. I could keep going, but I’m not much of a poet.
The first time I felt like that was at the Sonshine Festival in Wilmar, Minnesota. For those unfamiliar, it’s a large, outdoor concert that lasts for days. It was phenomenal, with the kind of music that I loved, surrounded by my fellow Christians, just immersed in it for hours and then days. I left the Festival that first time feeling transformed. I am Christian, hear me roar! I was convinced I was going to tear apart the world with my newly energized faith.
And I made a good go of it, or so I thought. I did my best to maintain that heady feeling. I changed my wardrobe to include a lot of shirts with in-your-face Christian messages. I made sure to carry a New Testament and Psalms with me wherever I went, making a point to read it in front of my friends. I was sure I would feel that way for a long time.
Only I didn’t. Eventually, the fire faded. I started to cool. Things went back to same-old, same-old. And I felt like I had failed. Something was off, and I was sure it was with me.
So the next summer, when the chance came to go to the Sunshine Festival again, you’d better believe that I went, if only to rediscover that passion and fire. And find it I did. After the concert, I left a new Christian, on fire once again, filled with vim and vigor and a little bit of vinegar. The shirts came back. The Bible didn’t, not this time (I had learned my lesson about being too in-your-face when my friends stuck a sticker from a banana in my Bible). But I was once again sure that I would be a conduit for faithful change.
Only I crashed once again. I tried, I really did, but I once again lost the euphoric feeling, and this time, it happened faster than the first. Once again, I was sure the problem was inside me. What was it about me that killed my enthusiasm so quickly? I was really worried because I felt like God was leading me to become a pastor, just like my dad. But was that really a good idea if my fire cooled so quickly?
And then I went to New Orleans to participate in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s National Youth Gathering. This time, I wasn’t out in a field for a weekend with a few thousand random Christians. Now I was in a gathering of fellow Lutherans, all of them my age, over ten thousand of us all together! That old euphoric feeling came back. And this time, this time I knew it would last. I had reacquired my passion. I had captured the lightening once again. It was good I was going to college to study for the ministry!
I fell off that mountain on the bus ride home.
So there I am. I’m going to college as a pre-seminary student. And it seems like all I’ve got for faith is a flickering ember. And I was so sure that I had made a mistake.
But that all changed thanks to one of my professors my freshman year. He said something in class one day that had an unintentional but profound effect on my faith that sort of saved me from myself.
Want to know what he said? Come back next Monday to find out.