What does ‘Jesus changed my life’ even mean?

My Christian Testimony (written October 2012)

Having not grown up in church I neither affirmed nor denied existence of a “higher power” and actually leaned in the direction that one likely existed. However, since I never cracked open a Bible it would be a stretch to say I understood this higher power as the Christian God of the Bible.

Neither of my parents instilled any faith-based values in me growing up. My dad came from a mid-western Lutheran family and became disillusioned with “organized religion” during his Vietnam-era college years. My mom grew up in a broken home and spent much of her time in Catholic schools where her memories are dominated by a “forced belief system”- something she didn’t want to repeat with her children. Recently leafing through my baby-book, under “Favorite prayers” I find my mom has written: “Will let him decide for himself when he grows up. Don’t want to push him into anything…”¬†

Our family celebrated Christmas, but the only thing “honored religiously” was the giving of presents- my brother and I each having our very own Super Nintendo because sharing wasn’t one of our strong suits. My mom even created the best three-dimensional nativity scene on the block- complete with baby Jesus in a manger, Joseph, Mary, the Three Wise-men, and even some livestock thrown in for good measure- all sewn together and stuffed like puppets. The Easter bunny brought some pretty fancy baskets full of candy, and on a few Easters in my early years the candy-eating would be interrupted by my only childhood “church experience”- the adorning of fancy ill-fitting clothes for a trip to my great aunt’s Lutheran cathedral in York, PA.

I always wondered about the meaning of life, pondered the typical “why are we here” question, and would downright stress out about death and the after-life. So while I could easily have written in my bio “Christmas celebrator and Easter-egg hunter”, I figured “life-long agnostic” was a better fit.

I will be 33 years old in December. I lived almost 29 years of my life never truly hearing the gospel message- that is, what did Jesus’ life, death, and return from the dead have to do with me- and the rest of humanity for that matter?

So back to the original question- what does “Jesus changed my life” even mean? I will immediately cop-out and say until you personally experience it, you will never truly understand. For me, though, it has taken each day of the last 4 years to realize that it has actually happened- that Jesus truly has changed my life. There was no dramatic “conversion experience”, no powerful “slaying by the Spirit”, or whatever other Christian lingo that comes to mind.

What there was, and has been, is a daily personal growth and accountability that was not present before. I realize now that pre-Jesus I emotionally hurt others, engaged in sexual sin, broke promises, lied, cheated- and all the while justified my actions as permissible because the only standard I lived by was my own. Hey, it’s not like I was murdering anyone, so “to each his own” right? Then one day it hit me that murder was likely the only commandment I hadn’t broken.

So, at 29 years of age, I finally heard the message of The Cross- the Gospel of Christ. The historical account of how God came as a man to walk the earth in order to die a cruel death on a cross in our place, for the sole purpose of coming back to life so that all of humanity until the end of time could also live on after death- if they simply believe that it happened, and desire to live how he instructed while he was here. One word comes to mind- humility. This trait was something I lacked until the day I was humble enough in spirit to raise my hand in church and acknowledge that my way of life was broken, and that because Jesus is God he could help me pick up the pieces and change my direction.

What happened next? Well, that story is still being written and by God’s grace will continue for many more years until my death. I still occasionally hurt others, break promises, lust, lie and even cheat (at Words with Friends mostly)- but with each shortcoming (aka “sin”) comes a conviction that I know it’s wrong. Don’t assume this is simply a “guilt trip” from God, my pastor, or anyone else. It’s not, but rather an inner-desire to live as a good example to my wife, family, friends, newborn son, and most importantly- to God. Not to be all “high and mighty” or in an attempt to claim some moral high ground, but to live a fulfilling life- one without emptiness or a yearning for “something more.”

With this blog, I have set out to write and opine from a humble Christian spirit. Not judgmental in tone, but certainly not matter-of-fact in truth. I will lean on others who are wiser than I, and seek guest contributions as often as the opportunity arises. I believe this world has a lot of problems and brokenness, and the cultural shift away from moral absolutes and faith-based perspectives is a large reason for that- in both Maine and around the world. And while I’m willing to concede The Church in it’s current state doesn’t have all the answers and is often times a major part of the problem, I assert that Jesus and the rest of God’s Word has much more of a role to play than simply a place at the table.