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As a youngster my faith was very real—and as early as I can remember, Jesus was a part of my life. The relationship I had with Him began like many others, through the unique love of my mother. Her mother, Alice, a first generation Italian-American, was a pioneer who was one of the first women to be a president of a Lutheran congregation in this country. Together they saw to it that I was in church and Sunday school every week. In fact, I remember staying through both the early and late services as they worked to grow the mission congregation we attended. My young faith was also nurtured because of a special Sunday school teacher, Susan Baldwin, who glowed with the Spirit as she shared stories about her Master with her primary class every Sunday morning.

During elementary school, my faith continued to grow because of Rev. Kroneburger who came down out of his pulpit to be a great dad to twin boys, Peter and Paul—good friends who were my age. He was a pastor that my own unchurched, but awesome dad liked for an interesting reason—he could remove his clerical collar and be a regular guy.

I remember planning my junior high and high school sports, academics and activities around my confirmation class, not vice versa. Most important of all I remember Pastor Baglien who confirmed me, and in the traditional pre-Affirmation of Baptism interview asked me what I wanted to do with my life.

“Take the message of repentance to the world as a pastor,” I said—only to have the comment met with his wise counsel that there where many ways to be involved in ministry.

As I matured, there were continual miracles He brought about in my life that made me even more aware of His presence. Like the healing of an irreparable injury that allowed me to participate in the state track meet only three weeks later—or the “mistaken” phone call to my younger brother Mike from a college track coach who thought he was a senior and wanted to offer him a scholarship. A scholarship that was eventually offered to me which paved the way for a young Lutheran to be challenged at a Mennonite college.

There were other events in my life that strengthened my belief in Him. Like the beautiful godly wife He brought into my life; college professors that encouraged me to look deeply into my Lutheran heritage instead of trying to convert me to Anabaptist theology; and countless college chapel speakers who each brought a personal challenge to grow in faith. Later in my career there were a number of professional opportunities that I’d encounter which were clearly gifts from God.

But nothing has had more impact on my relationship with Him and His great love for me, than the way He accepted me back after I proceeded to trash many of the opportunities and relationships He had given me through sinfulness, a thorough compromise of my witness, and a personal descision to pursue a walk of faith . . . “my way.”

How could He possibly receive me back after giving me so much, so many opportunities, only to have me squander them and reject the walk He chose for me? Through the very message He had given me to share so many years before—a message of repentance.

Whether you’re a an unbeliever, a compromised believer like I was, or walking firmly in the faith, the repentance I speak of is primary to your relationship with Jesus.

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