By: Joseph Loomis
On April 5th, 2015—Easter Sunday—I stood before you all and professed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Admittedly, my motives for doing so were selfish: I wanted to go to heaven because I was afraid of hell…and Jesus said He was the way, so I wanted Him in my life, but I really didn’t own it or act like it. I was as forgiven then as I am now, but I was a spiritual infant—I had a relationship with God, but it was very weak; in need of nourishment. In the three-plus years since then, God has drastically changed the posture of my heart. And I say God, because it couldn’t have been anyone else. Three years ago, I had zero plans to be telling a group of people about my relationship with God, and negative plans (if that’s even possible) to forsake lab work to attend an 8-week program in Florida just to grow my relationship with Jesus. I also didn’t plan this whole facial hair thing, but you know…God is sovereign.
Anyway, by the preposterous grace and mercy of God, I’m here. Mainly, I would like to share my story—or testimony—with you. Then, I’ll briefly overview my time in Florida (note for web version: I did this extemporaneously; for brevity, I’ve omitted this here. If you’re interested, I’d be delighted to talk with you). Finally, I’ll elaborate on one lesson God taught me while I was there.
Before I begin, I’d ask for your patience; it has been very difficult for me–a very…wordy person–to condense these three years into a coherent message less than a half-hour in length. God has just shown and taught me so many things, and I want to talk about them all, but I just can’t.
Alright, we’re burnin’ daylight; let’s go.
This is NOT a complete account; for that, come find me, and we’ll talk. Also, I share this with you because, as we heard from Revelation 12:11 and from David a few weeks ago, our testimonies have power. And while I have a moment, I just wanted to say thank you, David, for sharing how God has given you a selfless desire to live for Him. As one who has recently been challenged by his own self-centeredness, I was quite encouraged by God’s work in your life.
Freshman Year: Fall 2015—Spring 2016
When I came to KU, my priorities list was school, lab work, running club, singing, and then friends and God/church, in that order. I was still searching for concrete, convincing proof that the Bible was true and had any application to my life. I thought that relationships—both with God and others—were a frustrating distraction from my focus on school and science. I thought this because, throughout high school, I had built my worth on my academic success and accolades…everything else was fun occasionally, but ultimately, I thought it wasn’t worth my time. Another reason I devalued relationships was because I thought that, since science was my “passion”, I must love it more than anything else. So, when I moved in to 618 Templin Hall, I intended to live out my college years in much the same way as I had high school: in pursuit of good grades and accolades. But God placed me in a room with some cornhusker named Cameron Bretsen, and we quickly became good friends due, in part, to our studiousness and our common interest in sports. Cam, however, was a few steps ahead of me in his walk with Jesus, and he really wanted to join a campus ministry AND a local church. Within a month, we joined Grace Evangelical Presbyterian Church (“GEPC” for short) and the Navigators, an international campus ministry whose mission is “To know Christ and make Him Known”. God has used GEPC in my life, but most of my story today involves the Navigators.
That fall, I joined my first Bible Study with the Navigators—ok, the truth is, Cam coaxed me into going many times. Looking back, this—the first time I consistently opened God’s word–was crucial. In Isaiah 55:11, God promises that His word will accomplish His purpose. If God’s purpose then was to convince me that His word was truthful and applicable, it didn’t take long before He accomplished that. We read 2 Timothy 3 sometime in mid-semester. In verses 16 and 17, I read this:
“16All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3: 16-17, ESV)
God used this verse to help me realize that the Bible was more than a collection of writings from random old guys long ago with little relevance to my “modern” life. No, the Bible was His; he breathed it into Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, and many others; they wrote, but he was the author. And ultimately, I was never going to find concrete, empirical, scientific proof of this supernatural occurrence…so I was faced with a leap of faith. I chose to believe.
I also met Brian Eddings, a silly goober from Gypsum, Kansas, through Navs that fall. Cam, Brian, and I grew closer throughout the following spring due in part to our shared love for basketball, or as we called it, “ball is life”, and our regular interactions at Navs events. While I didn’t know it yet, God would radically transform Brian’s life the following summer at some…rando Navs program in Jacksonville, Florida. Then, God would draw Cam, Brian, and I into deep, meaningful friendship as brothers in Christ.
One last important detail from my freshman year: in the spring, I was approached by my Bible Study leader about joining something called KU Navs Leadership Community, and after some deliberation, I decided to apply because…well, I came up with some good-sounding reasons, but the real reason was because Cam and Brian were doing it.
Sophomore Year: Summer 2016—Spring 2017
I stayed in Lawrence to do research the following summer. While Cameron was enginerding (yes, you read that right) in Omaha and Brian was being transformed in Florida, I was living with another good friend, Jayden. I still thought I had to love science above everything else, in part because it hadn’t let me down yet. I decided to read through Romans and attend the Navs’ summer Bible study, but I ultimately learned more from the extreme disappointment I experienced with research. Lab work went awfully. My experiments ran into unforeseen problems, and I spent almost all of my summer troubleshooting…only to encounter another issue. I felt devalued by my coworkers’ lack of communication with me. I had promised my professor that I would be diligent, but his lack of investment in me stifled any enthusiasm I had for his research. I counted the days until the next time I got to come back home to see my mom. I seriously considered leaving the lab. To compound things, Jayden was swamped with taking Calc. III over the summer, and when he had free time, he spent it–wisely–on growing his then-new relationship with his now-fiancé, Kendra. So there I was, frustrated, alone, and perhaps worst of all, wrong. Wrong to think that scientific achievement or shiny pieces of metal or paper would ever bring me lasting joy. Wrong to think that I didn’t need people, much less friends. Wrong to think that anyone/anything other than Jesus would permanently satisfy.
So I entered my first Leadership Community Retreat that fall—over Labor Day weekend—thinking I was unqualified to lead, fearing I would be an embarrassment to the Navigators and to God, and convinced that my hesitancy to pray in front of others would expose me as an imposter. Now during the retreat, we had something called extended time alone with God, or ExTAWG, and I happened to be reading Romans 8:28-39. Interestingly, I did not read verse 26, which would have spoken directly to my consternation about prayer: “26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Nope, didn’t read that verse. Instead, I fixated on the words of verses 38-39:
“38For I am sure that neither death nor life, no angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, ESV)
I read this and realized that only God and his love, proven in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, could satisfy whatever I was looking for in school and research. I didn’t really have words at the time for what I needed, but I knew that the promised certainty of God’s love met it. So I decided I would trust Him with my life. This sounds instantaneous, but in reality, it was a process.
Fall 2016 was the most difficult semester I’ve had. I took 18 hours, had no lab time, and worried constantly about my grades. On a Thursday in early October, I found out I was rejected from the University Scholars Program. I was devastated, in part because I still clung to my idolatry of grades and accolades, but also because it felt as if once again, I had given my life to something—school—that failed me. Two days after this rejection, I was at a major Navigators conference called Main Event in Ames, Iowa. I can’t remember what the Friday night message was about, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered. I was tired of pursuing grades and other earthly things that could not guarantee that I would be valued or loved. So I took another step of faith and prayed “Lord, my grades are yours.” Again, what I said did not become a reality overnight—in fact, I am still convicted of idolizing good grades—but God was steadily deconstructing my old life and inviting me to come to Him.
As fall 2016 drew to a close and 2017 began, I became really convicted—for the first time—of the extent of my own sinfulness; of my pride, selfishness, lust, and envy. Nobody else knew—I tried hard to keep it a secret—but I knew; and I was sure God knew. These realizations drove me to self-criticism and shame. I wondered if God was begrudgingly choosing to love me, because I didn’t see how anyone would want to. It made no logical sense. Then, at another Navigators conference in January, the speaker pointed us (the audience) to Micah 7:18-19.
‘18Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19, ESV)
Then, the speaker said, “The worst about you didn’t keep Jesus away.” This shocked me. I believed in Jesus, I had trusted Him with my life, and yet I did not expect that the almighty God of the universe would look at the most dark, defiled part of my being and say, “I’ll die for that.” It made no sense, but it was true. That’s when I understood the staggering extent of God’s mercy and the great depth of his love for me. I resolved to know more about who God was. So after the conference, I started spending time with the Lord daily, Brian and I began memorizing verses for Bible Study, and I began meeting with a Navigators staff member named Aaron Trent weekly.
During one of our weekly meetings, I shared that I frequently found myself praying Ezekiel 36:26 to God: “26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh”. I remember two reasons for praying this: 1) I wanted to love God, because I realized he loved me, and 2) I wanted to love other people, and I realized how bad I was at it. Admittedly, I was also influenced by a weird, never-before-encountered desire that had crept in to my mind: finding and dating a girl. But I wasn’t going to seek a relationship until I was certain I could love another person and treat them in a God-honoring manner. In response, Aaron asked me to recite 2 Corinthians 5:17, one of the verses Brian and I had memorized, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Aaron then looked at me and said, “Do you realize that if you are in Christ, God has already given you a new heart?” More flabbergasted speechlessness. How could God give such a gift to person who didn’t deserve it?
I ended my sophomore year having understood, for the first time, that I needed God more than I could have imagined, but at the same time, he was more loving, merciful, and gracious than I dared hope. Around Spring Break, Brian wrote me a letter encouraging me to go to Jacksonville, Florida, and attend the program that had transformed him into a fervent follower of Jesus. I decided against going, but the seed was planted.
Junior Year: Summer 2017—Spring 2018
I gave research a second shot last summer, and things were much better, in part because God had shown me that my relationship with Him–and my relationships with others—were more important than work. Then, another unexpected twist happened: Aaron asked me to lead the KU Navs’ summer Bible Study in Lawrence. After a fair amount of persuasion, I agreed to lead. But my old fear of being an imposter returned. What if I couldn’t answer people’s questions? What if I said something wrong? Our first study was Genesis 3; not exactly the ease-in passage for a first-time Bible Study leader. Midway through the study, Cara—who was my friend at the time—asked, “So if God knew Adam and Eve would eat the fruit, why did He put the tree in the Garden?” Inwardly, I panicked, because I didn’t have an answer at the time; outwardly, I said, “Good question…I don’t know.” Luckily, another guy in the study, Eleazar, was able to answer Cara’s question in a thorough and eloquent manner. God showed me that it was ok to not know all the answers, because He did, and He would answer people’s questions in the way that would glorify Himself most. As I continued leading Bible study through the rest of the summer, I grew more confident in my ability to depend on God; as long as I was faithful to lead, he would guide others’ hearts and minds.
In September and October, God guided me to realize—through conversations with Cameron and others—that Cara and I were becoming too close to be “just friends”. At our fall conference in the Ozarks, Cara admitted that the workshop she attended had led her to realize that, for the previous 10 months, all she had wanted was a boyfriend, when she should have been seeking God. It took everything I had to avoid saying, “For the past two months, I have been planning to ask you out, but I haven’t had the courage to do it.” I asked her out a week later. At the same conference, the speaker put words to the mysterious needs that I felt God meet when I read Romans 8: significance and security.
This past spring, I led an upperclassmen’s Bible Study on Galatians, in which Paul really articulates that we are not made right with God because of our works, but because of our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. While I enjoyed leading the study, I was struck by my lack of faithfulness in spending time to get to know my study members outside of Tuesday evenings. I compared my actions to those of other student leaders, and my inner critic made a comeback. I was simply discouraged with my own lack of faithfulness. Then one week, Lamentations 3:22-23 was my memory verse:
“22The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV)
Around the same time, I read the following words in Tim Keller’s The Reason for God: “It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you.” These words helped me realize that the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father is greater than my own unfaithfulness. Shortly thereafter, I decided to attend the Navs’ program in Jacksonville that Brian had raved so much about. I did so because I wanted to overcome my self-centeredness and move into making disciples; into guiding other men my age towards Jesus.
Jax STP Program Info
I extemporized this portion of my message. For the sake of brevity, I have not included the information here. But if you’re interested, please contact me; I’d be more than happy to share with you!
Before I arrived at Jax STP, I began reading Ezekiel. I don’t know if y’all have ever read the first half of Ezekiel, but it ain’t a happy time. It’s basically God telling Ezekiel how he will expend his wrath on the unfaithful Israelites. Ezekiel is not spared, either. Again and again, God repeats the purpose of his wrath, saying, “And they shall know that I am the LORD…”. When I was thinking about how in the world I was going to tie together my reading Ezekiel with what I learned about my relationship with Christ and about reaching others with the gospel, I kept thinking of this phrase. That led to me realizing what God wants for my life and yours. God desires to be known; in us, and through us. When he is known, he receives the love, glory, and honor that He is due. For this to happen, we need to have trusted Jesus with our life and made a commitment to follow after him.
God is known through us by our witnessing, which includes our sharing of the good news of Jesus and our investing in the lives of other people so that they might know Him as Lord. To be honest with you, I have found these disciplines difficult. They require an others-centeredness that only the Holy Spirit can provide. Philippians 2: 3-8 has been of great encouragement to me as I continue to ask God for daily others-centeredness.
In order for God to be known through us, he must be known in us. This can seem a bit ambiguous, and I think it’s perhaps easier to think about the opposite situation. God is not known within us when we believe Satan’s lies, and there are many. Some people think, “I don’t need God, I have ___”. That was me. Others think, “I am beyond God’s help”. That was also me. And a final lie I recently encountered was, “I have no excuse to not obey God—my parents loved me as well as any parents could, I’m not destitute, God has graciously blessed me with several talents…I don’t have any excuse. So my disobedience must mean that I’m faking this whole thing.” I wish I had time to pick apart each of those, but I don’t. Suffice it to say, returning to the gospel daily is an excellent start. I’ve used several verses to summarize God’s good news in the past, such as Romans 3:21-26, but recently I’ve gravitated towards Colossians 2:13-14.
“13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14, ESV)
I hope you can see what this means if you have given yourself to Jesus. It means that when God looks at you, he sees Jesus—you are justified; just as if you had never sinned. And this means Satan and his lies are irrelevant and powerless…they are nailed to a cross. But more than that, Paul says in Ephesians 1 that you are sealed with the Holy Spirit, who will guide your sanctification as you walk with Jesus in this world. Now honestly, I’ve found that the Holy Spirit is, most of the time not a magic, instantaneous fixer-upper. Sanctification is hard: we’re sinners living in a fallen world, and if you’re like me, you’ve been increasingly challenged by that. Even though Satan is powerless, there are times when he seems powerful. You increasingly see how much of a self-centered, prideful, wretched sinner you are and wonder if God really knew what he was getting into.
But there is hope that will never go away, because we serve a faithful God who “is not man that he should lie, or a son of man that he should change his mind” What he says, he does; what he speaks of, he fulfills. And our hope is that a day will come when that record of debt and Satan’s lies nailed to the cross will be gone; when God will wipe away every tear, and death shall be no more; when every tongue, tribe, and nation will proclaim that Jesus is Lord; when God will restore this broken world to glory; when we will see Jesus, face-to-face, and He alone will meet the desires of our souls.