I would like to share with you a little about a subject that I am often sensitive about, though I’m not sure there is any reason I should be. In my debut book, Walking Man: A Modern Missions Experience in Latin America (ISBN 9780979163906), I dedicate about two chapters to my life before accepting Christ. I don’t go into a whole lot of detail, but there’s no doubt in the reader’s mind that I was a delinquent. For a short but sad era, I made my living from my dull wits and nothing better occurred to me than to steal and cheat my way into a meal and a place to stay.
I sometimes feel ashamed of this past, but I have seen over and over again how God has used my past to help me relate to young people today who need to be saved from a life of delinquency. I wonder often if people I meet could know what I used to be and if it would hurt my ministry. And for those who have or will read Walking Man, will a shadow of doubt be left in their minds about the kind of person I am? After all, can a leopard change his spots?
Well, no, but Christ can change us. The Apostle Paul said, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind” Romans 12:2. And he knew as well as any other that a total and permanent life transformation is possible, but I would assert that it rarely happens overnight. When I came to know God at that tiny church in the Amazon jungle, I know that I was immediately different although God had been working on me for some months to change my desires – even though I hadn’t accepted Christ yet. However, there was much work to be done for my life to bring glory to God.
Praise God I am a different man. I try to live without regret. Every once in a while Satan will sit on my shoulder and try to make me feel inadequate because of who I was, but then God whispers to me that He has given me beauty for the ashes of my life. In my imperfection, He has created perfection.
I am glad to be able to offer advice to young people from the perspective of real-life experience. That’s not to say that someone who never went deep into moral sin can’t offer good advice. There are really two opposite scenarios: the person who has made all the right moves by accepting Christ early and staying out of trouble and the person who has come to the end of his rope, messed up royally and had to be dug out of the ditch by grace. Both have something to offer others. Both perspectives are needed. I can offer the latter, but I praise God that both my boys, who are young men now, have walked the first path I described.
I would wish the first path for all my Christian brothers and sisters.
Thank you for this opportunity to share with you. I invite your comments and suggestions on what you think about whether a person’s jaded past is a help or hindrance to their witness and their own spiritual walk. Could you attend church where the pastor was a former convict or drug addict? What about a pastor who had a violent crime on his record as a young person? Can human trust reach as far as God’s grace? Let me know what you think!