At age of 4, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes. I would constantly have to be cautious of what I ate and how often I ate. I was too young to care for myself so my parents did the majority of the work. Still, I felt limited by my disease. When I was 5, my family moved to Rancho Santa Margarita where we began to attend Saddleback Church. I grew up going to Sunday school every week and listening to the Bible stories told by my leaders. I took an understanding to them, but never really knew the true meaning of the stories. I only read areas in the Bible that talked about laws, which led to a life of spiritual legalism all through elementary and junior high school. Basically, I only focused on what the Bible says to do and what not to do. I tried to be the perfect child by only doing good. I believed that if I committed the slightest wrong, I would be punished by God. My relationship with God during my childhood consisted of showing up to church every week, attending midweek small groups, and praying during meals and at bed time. I would say that I was a believer in Christ, but not a follower of Christ.
I continued to attend Sunday services every week and as I became more and more filled with stories from the Bible, spiritual legalism started to control me. I felt like I was surrounded by surveillance cameras being watched by the eyes of God. Having strong Christian parents, my mom asked me if I wanted to commit my life to Christ in seventh grade. I committed my life to Christ that day, but only verbally, not so much in my heart. Not until high school did I start to understand what a life of Christianity was really about. Attending services at the high school ministry really changed my view of Christianity. It wasn’t just about doing good things and not doing bad things. It was about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, although throughout high school, I really only experienced Christ when I was at church, once a week. I knew that Christ existed and I fully believed in Him, but did not yearn for Him. I thought that I would just leave that to Pastor Doug Fields every weekend when I went to church.
I joined a small group in junior high as well as high school. That was the first time I really started experiencing true fellowship with other believers. Throughout my 4 years with the same small group leader, Dennis Beckner, I became very close with the guys and learned that following God is more than rules and laws. It was also about living to glorify God and to have a personal relationship with Him. I did everything I could to spend time with God daily. I had numerous opportunities to go to camps with HSM, but I was too scared to go and deal with my diabetes on my own. I still relied a lot on my parents helping me with my diabetes through high school. I would find myself at times crying in bed asking “Why, me God?” I started to become very frustrated with this disease. I would pray for peace and freedom from frustration. However, I took a step of faith and decided to go up to Hume Lake for Summer Camp with HSM in 2005. I was still very nervous about being on my own with my diabetes, but about an hour into being at camp, my nerves were gone and relaxation came over my body. I knew that transformation was upon me.
When I graduated from high school, I started attending CRAVE every Thursday night. There, I met the greatest group of guys I have ever met. We developed an awesome bond which really gave me peace. We even started up a small group which I occasionally attended. My sophomore year, I attended College Briefing. The final night of camp, we were told to go find a quiet place and be silent. I found a rock and perched up on it and just began to pray. At that moment, tears came down my face as I was empowered with gratefulness and humility. I thanked God for the tremendous friends he provided for me in a prayer of thanks.
The change really started to hit me when we recreated our small group made up of the same guys as before and then some. Everyone attended every week and we really developed an amazing bond with one another. We had a total of 14 guys in our small group, most of them sitting in here today. The big thing our group focused on was accountability. Every week, we would completely open up to each other about anything. Through this group, as well as through having quiet times, communicating with Him, reading the Word, and praying, I grew so much closer to God. The Utah trip last winter was a defining moment in my life. The last night, I was prayed over and just felt the weight lifted off my shoulders. During worship, I fell to my knees in surrender to Jesus Christ as tears came down my face.
I now strive every day to glorify Him, for if it was not for Him dying on the cross and being raised from the dead, we would not be here. As often as possible, I thank Christ for removing and forgiving my sins. I am no longer being controlled by spiritual legalism. Sin happens, but as long as we wholeheartedly repent for those sins and strive to avoid them, God will bless us. Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.
Our small group continues to this day. Some people have been added, others have left and started small groups of their own but I’ll tell you this. I have never valued relationships more than with this group of guys. I love them and am forever thankful to God for putting them in my life. Without them, I would be no where near the man of Christ I am today.
So I ask you, do you have that community of people that you can rely on? That you can open up to? Jesus had his 12 disciples and you can find that fellowship of people as well. My challenge to you is this: We talk about small groups every week, so if you’re not in one, join one. Who knows the type of people God will put in your life for you to get to know and build relationships with. Also, become involved with the CRAVE community. CRAVE is a safe and friendly place, we would all love to talk to you and get to know you. There are also many ways to get connected through CRAVE. I want to leave you with this verse from Psalm 55:13-14: “But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.” And 1 John 1:3: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.”