I wasn’t a murderer or a drug dealer, so my story of coming to faith in Christ won’t be turned into a made-for-TV movie. Nonetheless, like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, God rejoices whenever one of his children returns to him and accepts the gift of eternal life by believing in his Son.
Growing up, we attended a traditional, small town church. The emphasis was on showing up and going through the rituals each week. I had never seen anyone have their life changed by God, and wasn’t sure about the purpose of church. I learned to just keep showing up, to pray some prayers, and to not behave too badly. That’s about it.
That was my status quo until high school. About this time, my mother (who was a Catholic nun before she left the convent and married my dad) started seriously reading the Bible, and developed a real relationship with Jesus. I was vaguely interested, but didn’t think about it too much.
One night while driving, he asked me, “If you were to die in a car crash tonight, would you go to heaven?” I stumbled, and said something along the lines of, “I don’t know. Yes, I think? I’ve been a pretty good person so far compared to others. I haven’t murdered anyone.”
Regardless, even if I had said a confident, “Yes”, I wouldn’t have had anything to back it up. The question pierced my “know-it-all” high school brain. It bothered me. I actually knew two people about my age (a friend and a neighbor), who had recently died in separate car accidents. It was a possibility. I wasn’t invulnerable.My best friend in high school, Mike Trumm, went to a little Bible church in our town.
Fortunately, my friend was well-versed in his understanding of the Bible. He gave me the information I needed to make the most important decision of my life. The heart of that initial, and subsequent discussions can be found on the First Things First page. I had sinned like everyone else, and this was a big problem in the eyes of God. I needed to embrace the solution – faith in his Son, Jesus. In Romans 6:23 it says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I made that decision the summer before I left for college. My eternal destiny was solid. I was going to spend eternity with God in heaven. I felt I could check the Life To-Do box by “Fire Insurance”. But I soon learned there was much more to Christianity than just an assurance of heaven (which is awesome in and of itself). I was supposed to be transformed to be more like Jesus every day.
It took a while for my life to change, (and it’s still changing today) but I was moving in the right direction. I formed a strong foundation through my college InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group, going to Elmbrook Church and hearing the preaching of the world-famous Stuart Briscoe, and eventually connecting with my future wife, Michelle. My faith started to become central in my life. It was a far cry from anything I had experienced growing up. Not only did I see life change in myself, but also in those around me who were either exploring Christianity or intently following after God. It was an exciting time!
Medical school was a spiritual blur. Reflecting on it, I was probably on spiritual cruise control. We attended a nice church and a good small group, but I didn’t grow at the same rate as during college. That’s what happens when you take your eye off the road.
But during residency, things started to heat up again. After visiting about 10 churches in the La Crosse area, and not finding one that “fit,” I called a former pastor who informed me of a church plant (a new church just starting) in La Crosse. I think we came to the second-ever service of Cornerstone Community Church in September of 1997. It was a very small group of people who were meeting in a little room of a high school. There were almost more people up front playing music than there were in the seats that day. But Michelle and I clearly knew without a doubt, that this was our new church. I have had many opportunities to serve, and each has deepened my faith and walk with God, as well as my leadership ability. I’ve led several small groups, coached and taught other leaders, taught financial principles, served on the Overseer board (which was my most challenging and highest growth role), and now as Executive Director.