I grew up in the Catholic church, and while I thought I was, "Christian," I really wasn't. I thought you went to church and when you died you automatically went to heaven. I had heard the term, "born again," but I thought being, "born again" was some weird cult, so I didn't consider its meaning beyond that. As I grew up, I pretty much quit going to church altogether. At 21, I started a home-building company and found that I was gifted at starting companies, leading people, and being a good salesman. However, I never took running a business very seriously. I was bored easily and felt like I always wanted to do something else. The stress also started piling up. Being so young and having no education or business experience, I found myself stressed out a lot. To relieve the stress, I started drinking and abusing drugs. It wasn't long until I was addicted to cocaine.
Then a very strange thing started happening. People began telling me about Jesus all over the place! It made me very uncomfortable. Looking back, I can see why I was so uncomfortable -- I loved my sin, I loved myself, I loved the world, and Jesus Christ didn't fit into any of that. I knew that much! At this point in my life it was all about money and satisfying my flesh. Having something or someone named Jesus come between me and all of that was unthinkable.
But God wouldn't leave me alone. I kept getting "witnessed" to repeatedly: an employee, the guy who sold me lumber, and yes, even a client! I remember that the client and his wonderful wife brought me to a week-long seminar on being a Christian. After the seminar was over, he sat me down at the Forest Lake Perkins and asked me, "Matt, do you want to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?" I said, "No." After hearing about Jesus for an entire week, I flat-out said, "NO." I loved my life too much. I loved my sin too much.
Eventually the addiction worsened and the business fell. At age 30, I started a new business -- a commercial real estate company. This new business grew quickly. Before I knew it I had an office downtown and the money was rolling in. My financial wealth was growing, but so were my addictions. Strangely, the witness encounters continued. I remember one night I came home after partying downtown and I had a voicemail on my phone. It was an older woman whom I didn't know. I remember being floored when her message said, "You don't know me, and I don't know you, but I'm praying for you!" I was really starting to be convicted! Once again, faced with the decision to either run to Jesus or continue to live in this life of sin I knew was wrong, I chose the latter. I loved my life too much. I loved my sin too much.
A short time later, another client invited me to go to church with him. It seemed like I couldn't get away from these, "Jesus freaks!" Finally I decided to go to his church and the pastor was talking about being "born again"; only his message had something more attractive in it. I couldn't explain it; all I know is that when he asked who wanted to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, my hand went up! I didn't plan on it, I didn't even try; it just went up!
I started attending this church regularly and I realized, ultimately, that the pastor taught what is known as Word of Faith principles. Although I was now attending church regularly, my lifestyle didn't improve. In fact, it got worse -- a lot worse! I know, now, that a piece of the puzzle was missing. I wanted Jesus to be my Savior, but I still wanted to call the shots. I didn't understand the difference between, "confession," and "repentance," and so I continued to struggle; only now I was extremely miserable. I felt like a hypocrite! During this time I had short stints of staying clean. I even managed to get married and have a son in this brief period, and was divorced just as quickly!
In July 2005, I remember laying in bed in utter desperation and complete brokenness. I fell asleep with my Bible on my chest crying out to God to help me. And then it happened. That night God took away my desire for cocaine -- just took it away! I thought this was amazing. I was free from chemical abuse! But I still had a very unholy lifestyle as a single man.
But God continued to do what only He can. He continued to draw me to Himself and show me how horrible my sin was! He also brought spiritual giants into my life and gave me an enormous education and appetite for His Word! God showed me Philippians 1:6: "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it."
It was at this time that I learned the difference between, "confession," and, "repentance." I always thought they were the same thing. Confession is not simply saying, "I'm sorry," (although that's part of it); confession is agreeing with God that my sin is detestable and deserving of punishment. Repentance is turning away from sin and turning to God. I learned that calling on the name of Christ meant to turn away from all wickedness.
God was getting my attention, but in the process He needed to completely break me and take away all the material stuff I held onto for the wrong reasons. He is teaching me more and more every day. In the world's eyes I have lost everything; but from God's perspective I have gained everything. I now hate sin and believe God when He says in His Word in Romans 6 that we are to be dead to sin! Losing everything and being broken and humiliated was truly a great blessing from God!
Now I am committed to serving Christ. I'm married to a beautiful woman who loves the Lord. I preach in a prison once a week, I teach a Bible study class, and I have a son who knows more about Jesus Christ than many adults. And God continues to bless me with radical growth and hunger for His Word!