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Philip Murphy, Sports Journalist, ESPN

by carmine on December 2, 2014

I attended church weekly as a kid. Even when my family traveled, my parents would find a church and take me.

I was devout and religious, but I had no relationship with Christ. I went through the motions of my denomination without developing spiritual roots. Through my formative years, I “tried to be a good person,” with a morality established only by my conscience. As I got older, that conscience became more and more pliable to justify actions that often rested on the fringes of what I considered upright.

I didn’t know why I was doing the church thing. In fact, I never even asked myself that question. I just went because that’s what I did. That dissonance didn’t mean all that much when I was younger. Late in high school, though, where opportunity for more severe sin presented itself, my lack of relational depth was exposed. In college, it intensified further.

Between ages 17 and 19, God set off my spiritual alarm clock three times. The first two times, I ignored the blaring.

– Prom night –

My most significant high school girlfriend and I attended my senior prom. Hours past midnight, I remember snapping into awareness from some substances that were in my system. I stood outside my car, severely underdressed, not fully remembering the drive to the parking lot where we were. I knew I was on a dangerous trajectory.

Alarm sounds.
I pressed snooze.
Back to sleep.

– Babysitting –

IMG_8057The summer after my freshman year at George Mason University, I began a long-distance relationship with a girl I met years earlier while attending an American high school in Germany. When we started dating, she was pregnant (not mine) and living in Eastern Washington with her mom. Weeks into it, I knew the relationship wouldn’t last. But instead of having the fortitude to sever ties, I let it drag out. I was regularly unfaithful to her – which wasn’t difficult living 3,000 miles away. She flew out to visit me shortly after giving birth to her daughter. I planned on breaking off everything then, but – surprise – she landed and we spent a long weekend being very physically active, extinguishing the impetus to finish things. That was until, while she was taking a shower towards the end of her visit, I was tasked with holding her baby. I distinctly remember the baby looking into my eyes and smiling. I broke inside. My boyish relational pursuits were now affecting more than just the girl I was dating and myself.

Alarm blares.
I hit snooze.
Back to sleep.

– Other gods removed –

When I was 19 and a sophomore of college, I cleaned up my act – I thought. I was in a committed, long-distance relationship; I moved from part-time to full-time in my first sports writing job; I was making incredible gains in the gym. I still didn’t know what a relationship with God looked like. But I believed I did. I attended church weekly and thought spiritually distant morality was somehow sufficient.

Slowly, God began stripping me off all crutches I was using that weren’t Him. The relationship ended (in spectacularly heart-breaking fashion). I lost my job. I had an inexplicable, unrelenting flu that kept me from working out for months. It was emotional and physical misery — at least as much as a 19-year-old, upper-middle-class college student would understand “misery.” I knew I needed something else. I just wasn’t sure what it was.

Alarm sounds.
Time to wake up.
Rise to my feet.

With the largest functional “gods” out of my life, I turned – finally – to capital-G “God.” Two months after being hit with that three-punch combo, I felt compelled to meet with a leader in my church. He insisted on turning that time into a formal confession of sin rather than the general counsel I was seeking. Still, I entertained his request but quickly steered the conversation towards my relationship with God.

That hour proved future-altering, as after our meeting I received my first Bible. There were a few extra books in that Bible, but it was a Bible nonetheless.

I was assigned to read Philippians as penance, i.e. “punishment.”

IMG_8057People sometimes talk about the words figuratively jumping off the page. That’s exactly happened with me. Philippians intrigued me: a guy in prison writes about the ultimate joy found in Christ through suffering. After finishing Philippians, I didn’t know where to go next. But I wanted to go somewhere. My appetite for God’s Word was voracious.

So I flipped … eh, why not … let’s go to Romans; let’s go to John, to Matthew … My eyes gravitated towards pillar texts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My mind was illuminated. My heart was changed. For the first time, I was breathing eternally. But I didn’t know that yet. I only felt a hunger to read more, pray regularly and obey convictions of my new heart.

Over the course of the next few months, I made sense of what happened – and what was happening. Desires in me were shifting. Back then it was inexplicable. In hindsight, I know that was the Holy Spirit working in me, reconciling me to God through Jesus Christ.

Without the power of the Sovereign God, churchgoing is a lame hobby. But standing under God’s influence and leaning into His omnipotence, a relationship developed, providing a lens through which I saw the world and my purpose in it categorically differently.

That’s my conversion story. That was more than eight years ago. Since then, God’s pursuit of me has not relented – despite my pursuit of Him being horribly inconsistent. Progressive sanctification has been ongoing. He’s been faithful when I haven’t been.

My final testimony won’t be written until I take my last breath. But I know my eternity is secure, a truth that has been anchor through storms far more serious than a dating relationship ending or getting laid off. In fact, I’m walking in the darkest season of my life right now. And I can say without hesitation, “Christ is sufficient.”

Having hope beyond this life is far more freeing that anything this world can provide.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life (John 14:6). We’re not promised a comfortable existence – in fact, as Christians we’re promised difficulty. But we take heart in a victory already claimed by Jesus (John 16:33). And we know that – no matter how horrible or seemingly unjust – nothing is greater than the One whom we serve (Rom 8:28).

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