I was raised in a church-going family. We went to the same church for all my childhood but were “Sunday Christians” only. I went to Sunday school and catechism classes, and if you had asked me if I believed in God and Jesus, I would have said “yes” without hesitation. About the time I began middle school, I was bored with church and embittered by the hypocrisy that I saw in the church, my own home and lifestyle. Church was dead and lifeless to me, and I did not want to go. So I slowly faded away from church entirely. I pursued my own passions—drugs, alcohol, girls, and popularity. My father was an officer in the Sheriff’s department, and our strained relationship really took a turn when I began to get into serious trouble with the school and the law. After being arrested twice and having multiple conversations with school officials, he notified me that my stay at their home would be over upon leaving high school. Instead of repenting, I was angered and decided to make my own path in the world.
I first started to feel the Holy Spirit tugging at me while in boot camp for the Air National Guard. I joined the Air Force right out of high school and, while in basic training, I went to a chapel service that felt alive. I thought that maybe there was something to this church stuff after all and that maybe I would look for a church when I got back home. While in technical training, I was spending no time pursuing the things of God and an awful lot of time still pursuing the things of the world. When I came home from tech school, my high school friends were still the same guys I had left, and so it was really easy for me to fall back into the same pattern of life I had before.
I enrolled in Kalamazoo Valley Community College and began to study business. After two years at KVCC, I enrolled in Western Michigan University to pursue a communications degree. I continued to pursue the same foolish and worthless things; everything I tried to find fulfillment in left me feeling empty and guilt-ridden. I still did not understand that what I was missing was Christ. I thought my problem was that I needed a good girlfriend in my life, so I went to where all guys go to find good girls— church!
I decided to try out Calvary Bible Church in Kalamazoo as it was close to campus. I went to the college group, came in late, and sat in the back row. I did not sing any of the songs and had no intention of making any commitment to anything. I had heard it all before and was familiar with the whole God thing.
The passage that was preached that day was Matthew 7:21-23 and 5:20.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
I do not remember his sermon specifically, but I remember thinking to myself all day that my righteousness was not sufficient to go to heaven. I had never cast out any demons, had never prophesied, nor done any other mighty works, and if these guys were out, then I must be way, way out. All week, I kept thinking that if I died as I was, I would be going to hell. It was the first time in my life that I felt I really deserved to go to hell. On New Year’s Eve, I went to a house party with my friends. I remember listening to the music, dancing, flirting, and drinking with an intense emptiness I had never felt before. In the middle of a beer pong game, I went to the bathroom and while I was washing my hands looking at myself in the mirror God brought James 1:23-25 to my mind. I had never even really remembered reading James before.
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
I knew that when God looked at my life all He would see was a drunken, adulterous, idolater at heart and that my offering to him would be burned up just like me. I poured my beer in the toilet, told my friends goodnight, and left that lifestyle behind as that Jon died and the new Jon was reborn in Christ, January 1, 2007. I went to the same group at church the next week and asked the pastor if I could make an announcement to everyone before he spoke. Because he had never seen me before in his life, he graciously declined but asked to meet after service. We did, and I told him what God was doing in my life.
The next week, he let me announce to the entire group the decision I had made, and then I asked for discipleship. Pastor began to pour into me, and eventually I was pushed into teaching and preaching. At first I was discouraged thinking that God would never use a man like me, but He was. People continued to give me positive feedback and confirmed that I was called to preach and teach. Eventually God led me to the conviction that if I chose any other path it would be sin for me because this is what I was called to do.
I went to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for my Masters in Divinity and have been pastoring at Allegan Bible Church since early 2015.