"I was raised in a Christian family and regularly heard the gospel growing up, but there was no love for God in my heart. I went to church and youth group every week – doing all the 'Christian kid' things – but I was just trying to be a good person and live a moral life because I thought that's what it meant to be a Christian. I was self-righteous and didn't want to be around people I deemed as ‘sinners.’
"After high school, I moved to Dallas for college and found Watermark's on-campus ministry during my first year. After a few months, I decided it wasn't worth my time and stopped going. I'd still attend church every Sunday, but it was simply out of routine and habit.
"A couple years later, when I got a summer internship in California, I moved into a house with three guys about my age. They seemed like 'super Christians' to me. They regularly read their Bibles, studied God's Word together, and went on prayer walks around the neighborhood. Growing up, I'd done similar things but never found joy in them. I wanted to fit in with these guys and show them I was on the same 'level,' so I started reading my Bible every day, too.
"What started from a sinful, people-pleasing motivation, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20) to bring me to Jesus. One day, I read 'everyone will die for their own sin (Jeremiah 31:30).' At the time, I was also studying Romans 2, which says, 'in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.' God was convicting me that my problem wasn't others' sins but my own.
"As I kept reading Jeremiah 31, it talked about the new covenant God would make with His people. He would forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34). After years of hearing the gospel, I finally understood that this is what Jesus came to do – to forgive and redeem us from all our sins.
"At the beginning of the chapter, God says, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love' (Jeremiah 31:3). I always thought God's love was transactional: that if I did enough good things, then He would love me. But He loved me before I had done anything good. His love isn't something that came into existence; it is something that was always there. God gave me eyes to see and believe that He loves me and sent His Son to die for me while I was still a sinner.
"When I returned to Dallas, I got involved in Watermark's college ministry again. I had abandoned those guys years before, but they welcomed me back. In the years that followed, I had ups and downs and struggled to be open and authentic with others regarding my sin. But as the guys around me began courageously confessing and turning from sin, I realized that I could live in freedom, too.
"In 2017, I went through Equipped Disciple, a Watermark training course that teaches how to walk with Jesus. Learning the basics of Scripture memory, how to pray, and how to devote daily to the Lord was a big help for me. Even though I'd grown up in church and conceptually knew all these 'basics,' I'd never consistently practiced them or understood them to be a means of God's grace.
"As someone who relates with the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, it's easy for me to equate obedience with simply following the rules. But faithful obedience flows from a heart that loves and trusts the Lord.
"I still struggle in many ways. Over the last couple of years, the Lord has taught me to depend on Him more and surrounded me with others to help me grow. I've served in Equipped Disciple for several years now, and in the past year, I've been sharing more often from the front – which is not something I'm especially comfortable doing. When speaking in front of others, I can get apprehensive and nervous because of my desire to impress and gain their approval. But as I take my anxious thoughts and insecurities to the Lord and receive prayerful support from my friends, I feel the Lord's peace with me.
"I love serving in Equipped Disciple and being able to help others love Jesus more by learning and practicing the basics. I'm encouraged every week to see others grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, and they remind me of my need to grow in the basics too. We can't ever move beyond the basics in the Christian life because those basics are the foundation that God uses to help us grow.”