Remedial Christianity

My Slice of Life

I am the son of immigrants.   Ok, I may have started with that just to make my story sound more dramatic, but it is true.  My mother is from Ireland, and my father from India.  In fact, I’m not really from here either.   I was born in Cambridge, England and spent my early days soaking in the scholarship of their renowned university.  Then, when I was 6 weeks old, we got on a boat and moved to Pittsburgh.  (a.k.a  the Cambridge of America)

Growing up I distinctly remember trying to figure out who I was.  My mother raised us (my 2 brothers & I) in the Catholic church, and we went to Mass every Sunday. I went through first communion and confirmation, even 4 years of Catholic High school, but to be honest, I was confused the majority of the time.  In fact, for most of my childhood, the only thing I was really sure of was that I had the largest glasses of anyone in the history of mankind.

childhood jonMy family stressed the importance of education, so I tried to excel in that arena.  Spiritually, I had this vague, uncomfortable feeling that I had done bad things, and I should feel guilty about them, but wasn’t sure how it all fit together.  So at some point  I decided that I had enough problems already, and I mentally checked-out of church life.  I just made it my goal to keep my head down and get through.

By the time I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and attend the University of Michigan, I had become a full-blown cynic.  I called myself an atheist, but was really just an agnostic with a very bad attitude.  I had decided that faith was for weak-minded people, and I was too intellectual for that.  I knew that something was missing from my life, but I had watched enough TV to know that all my problems would be solved in college.  So I oriented my life around having as much fun as possible.  And for the first 2 years I did.  Not only did I fill those days with all the usual suspects for entertainment (drinking, sex, sports etc…),  I also took the opportunity to mock any Christians I met along the way.

jonI was living out everything I thought would bring me the peace and joy I had hoped for.  I was even doing well in school, on track to pick up my engineering degree in three years.  But there was something missing.  I was still restless, and as confused as ever about who I really was. It was at this point in my life that two interesting things happened.  One, is that I began to meet a few Christians who didn’t seem weird or uncomfortable around me.  Up until that point I had a hard time connecting with anyone of faith, but these were ’normal’ guys.  They were funny, played ball, and didn’t freak out when I did something stupid. And yet, they had something in their lives that I lacked.

The other pivotal moment for me came when two friends sat down with me my senior year and actually explained the Gospel to me.  I had heard the word “gospel” before, and knew it meant “good news”, but had never quite grasped what was good about it.  These guys explained to me about my sin and separation from God, and how we have all fallen short of the glory of God.  This was not news to me.  But then they floored me when they said, “and there is nothing we can do about it.  No amount of good works will make this right.”  What?  I remember laughing out loud.  This is even worse news than I had originally thought.

Then they explained about Jesus, and how on the cross He paid for our sins.  And about His resurrection, that demonstrated that He was God and had defeated death.  And that righteousness IS possible, but not by works, but only through the grace of God.   And it is received by faith.  They showed me this verse in Romans 3…

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

They talked about having a right relationship with God, and understanding I was made for a purpose….and a lot of other things I am sure.  I don’t remember it all, but I do remember that I was intrigued.  I did not fall on my knees and place my faith in Christ that day.  But I was curious enough to start asking questions. Lots of questions.  I knew a lot of different Christians, in a lot different groups, so I started attending them.  And after they were done with their activities I would ask the questions I had.  Philosophical, scientific, historical…. I kept coming up with more and more.  Sometimes they had profound answers, sometimes not.  But at my core I was wrestling with, “is this intellectual suicide?”  What I encountered were Christians who would not duck the tough questions, but engage with me, and even had the humility to occasionally say, “I don’t know”.

As I wrestled with these questions I kept coming back to the Gospel.  How would I personally respond? After a lot of wrestling with God, in December of 1990 I finally humbled myself and became a follower of Christ.

wedding picMy life didn’t change all at once.  I graduated in 1991 with my engineering degree from UM and went to Northwestern for grad school.  I returned to Ann Arbor in 1992 with my Master’s degree and got a job as an engineer.  As I worked, I volunteered time and energy on campus with New Life Church.  I absolutely loved connecting with people and sharing the good news with them.  So many students were just like me….not really understanding much about Christ, but at the same time wrestling with the deeper question of life… why am I here? what am I missing?

I loved it enough to do it full-time & in 1995 I quit my job and raised support to be a campus missionary. Honestly, at the time I couldn’t believe they would hire me, but somehow I snuck in.  The next year I married the woman of my dreams…and we teamed up on this new mission. (I know that is such a ridiculous grin….I was just amazed Heather agreed to marry me)

I also began training to be a pastor, and after 6 years (I took the long road),  I was appointed as a pastor at NLC.  It was on April’s Fools Day 2001, so feel free to read into that whatever you would like.

Together Heather and I had the privilege of seeing God do miraculous things in the lives of men and women for 13 years at NLC, and watch the church grow up into the crazy exciting community it is today.   We also picked up 4 kids along the way : )  Spurred on by the great spiritual needs on college campuses today, our church had always dreamed of planting churches at other universities.  So in 2008, God led a team of Wolverines down south to see what God might do among the Buckeyes.

Aziz's house summer 2008

I honestly never thought I would be a church planter, but here we are.  Most of the time we have no idea what we’re doing, but luckily God is doing something fresh and new in our midst.   We have gotten the privilege to have front row seats to God creating a brand new community of Christ-followers right here in Columbus OH.   Being part of this step of faith has been one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives.  And we are looking forward to what God has in store next…


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