Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. – 1 Peter 3:13-17
Nicky Cruz of The Cross and the Switchblade fame has a dramatic conversion story. St. Paul has a dramatic conversion story (cf. Acts 9). Many life-long Christians have no such dramatic story. We don’t have a time when we were in full-tilt rebellion against God, or completely disbelieving or denying God’s rule in our hearts. We have struggles to be sure, and many failures to live out fully what we believe. But those pale in comparison to the likes of St. Paul, St. Augustine, John Wesley, Martin Luther, or Nicky Cruz.
We do, however, have hope. And when the days grow dark with discouragement, or long with fear, our hope can bolster us and allow us a platform to give witness to God’s work in our lives.
My story is punctuated with challenges and joys growing up. As a first-born son of a Christian father and mother, I do not remember a time when I didn’t believe in Jesus. I remember standing on my parents’ bed, singing Jesus Loves Me while getting ready for Church. I remember being baptized at First Baptist Church, at 8 years of age, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
I remember also wandering from a fully faithful following of Jesus in high school and my early college years. But I thank God for my friend Jerry who introduced me to a darkroom in my junior year of high school, interested me in photography, revealed that he was a believer in Jesus who wanted to be a Lutheran pastor. He convinced me, ultimately, not only to join the Lutheran Church, but also to study for the ministry and serve as a pastor in the Lutheran Church.
The hope I have is that God can redeem a completely unmotivated, unsuccessful, and unlikely real estate broker, and turn a boy who graduated in the bottom 10% of his high school class into a student who excelled to the extent that I have an earned doctorate degree (Doctor of Ministry, a professional, rather than an academic degree) from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
Trust me, that is testimony to God not to my abilities or success. It’s a message of hope that I hold to: God can redeem the lost, the wayward, the confused, the tired, the angry, the hopeless, the floundering, the wayward, the misdirected, the sinner of every type and kind and the saint that still carries the scars and scales of sin and spiritual blindness, and all too often stumbles.
I have made plenty of mistakes in life and in ministry. I have had too many failures of ministry to count. I have given up all too quickly. I have lost my will and travelled an all-too-well-worn rut of rebellion. But I have never been without a God of redemption or hope. Jesus redeemed me, a lost sinner. He sent his Holy Spirit into my heart and I believe in him. My heavenly Father calls me his Son. I have been saved. That is what I believe, and why I have hope in my heart.