I am Here! The story of my life.

Just a warning, this post will be long and it may get a little preachy. Telling my story ended up taking a little more space than I anticipated. It’s amazing sometimes to see how God has moved. I’ve been doing a mentoring book with several students this summer and the first chapter is writing your life story. It became pretty clear as I wrote what God is teaching me right now. I have no doubt that in a month this story will be a little different and in a year it will be completely different. I hope so anyways, because if God isn’t teaching me something new, if I’m not wrestling with something new, then I still haven’t got what He’s teaching me now. Below is the story of my life, “I am Here.” I hope it encourage you and teaches you something. If you’re interested in being mentored or going through this book I would love to talk to you. I can be reached at the church office 432.943.4301 or by email jd@fbcmonahans.com.

I Am Here

Coming from Nowhere

I remember when I was little, especially in elementary school; they used to give out bookmarks all the time. They gave us bookmarks at church, they gave us bookmarks at school, and we made bookmarks as crafts. Sometimes the bookmarks has the Dallas Cowboys on them, sometimes they had scripture in pretty writing, and sometimes they had pictures of our families in them. I just never really appreciated bookmarks though. A torn piece of paper or dog-earing the page worked just as well. They’re just placeholders. No matter how pretty a bookmark is, no matter how big it is or what is on it, it’s still just a placeholder. One of the great struggles of my life, one of the things that has driven me, has been the desire to be more than a bookmark in the world. I desire to make a difference.

My dad grew up in Colorado City, TX. His dad worked in the oil field and his mom worked as a piano teacher, at her dad’s feed store, and at a furniture store. My grandmother played the piano for several years for their church in Colorado City and my grandfather was a deacon, so my dad grew up attending church. My dad went to work right out of high school in the oil field. Both of his parents are still living.

My mom spent her childhood in Lefors, TX where my grandparents were raised. She spent her junior high and high school years in Snyder, TX. Her dad also worked in the oil field, he worked for Texaco until he retired. Her mom worked for Snyder Truck and Tractor until her death in 2013. Her dad passed away in 2004 only 2 weeks into my freshman year of college. My mom also grew up in church. Her dad was a deacon and her mom filled in at both piano and organ. They were active with church builder until my grandfather’s health became too bad to continue.

My parents married in Snyder in 1980. My dad went to work for Texaco shortly after that and they moved to Andrews, TX in 1982. By the time I was born (1985) my parents had plugged into First Baptist Church in Andrews. My mom was on staff at FBC for most of my life in various capacities ranging from children’s coordinator to financial secretary. My dad still works in the oil field, though he has moved companies several times since I graduated high school. I have one younger brother, Matthew (Matt) who got married in 2015 to Beth.

In the world that I grew up in, parents who worked in the oil field and the two-parent/two-child homes were completely and totally normal. It was impossible for me to see past the normal a lot times. My fear of being a bookmark, of being a placeholder, caused me to see my family and their story as boring, rather than as an incredible gift from God. Looking back, I can see God writing my grandparents’ and my parents’ stories. I can see the people that they’ve helped along the way and it has helped me understand that being famous or being rich, does not keep a person from being a placeholder, nor does NOT having those things keep a person from making a difference. I saw myself as coming from nowhere for a longtime. Now I understand that I came from exactly where God wanted me.

Growing Up in Nowhere

In college I used to joke that I grew up between nothing and nowhere. While it was a joke, it kind of describes how I viewed my development and my growth for a number of years. It was hard for me to see the world as God sees it. What I saw and still see if I’m not careful is insignificance. It was hard for me to see where I grew up and the way I grew up as something significant to God. It was easy for me to see it as a bookmark.

Growing up, I lived in church. Because my mom was on staff and my dad was a deacon, we spent a lot of time in church, doing all the activities available. As a kid, I never had to move. We moved from a trailer house outside of the city limits into town in 1989, so I barely even remember that and it’s not like I had to make new friends. I spent the rest of my childhood in that house. I went to one elementary school, one middle school and one high school. I had a different best friend at each phase of growing up. First was Jon, the Patrick, then Brady, and finally Brady and I added Tyler. I’ll get back to that though.

I accepted Christ in the middle of elementary school, probably at the perfectly average age for a kid who grew up in church. I remember walking the isle at RA camp and talking to a leader about becoming a Christian. I actually accepted Christ lying in bed one night when I was 9. It just hit me that I was a sinner who needed a savior and I gave my life to Christ. I was baptized at FBC in Andrews. For years, this part of my story felt so…average and normal. I found myself desiring a more dramatic testimony. My fear of being a bookmark or a placeholder was controlling how I saw my own salvation.

My best friends through high school were Brady and Tyler. The other friend from my childhood who has really helped shape me is Rachel, she has been a constant in my life, more family than friend. Brady and Tyler were the friends who helped largely form my view of the world. For the first time, I was questioning the socially accepted view of the world in my society (Andrews) and my family. Brady and Tyler helped me learn to look at the world critically and we walked together through getting interested in a world bigger than our own. They were helping me take ownership of my view of the world and I was becoming self-aware.

As I was becoming self-aware in the way that I viewed the world, I also started the process of become self-aware in my faith. My faith really began to grown my junior and senior year. We hired a new student ministry between my freshman and sophomore years; Lisa, God really used her to teach me how to walk with God. He called me to serve the church as a pastor my junior year in high school. It took some counsel and a lot of prayer, but I finally accept his call on my life and began pursuing that call.

I will never forget the camp when I surrendered to vocational ministry. It was Super Summer in 2003. In the middle of a worship service I felt an overwhelming conviction to go and pray with a girl from our church. She was in a totally different color group in a room with more than 1000 kids. I just remember fighting and fighting and eventually sitting down in the middle of worship. When I looked up, she was the only person in her color group I could see. Of 1000 plus bodies in that room, she was the only face I could see. It was like God was screaming, “I’m in control.”

Moving Somewhere

In 2004 I graduated from high school and went to Dallas Baptist University. For the first time in my life I was somewhere that mattered. I’m not sure that I had that though consciously, but it was definitely there. I felt superior almost because I was living somewhere that mattered. At DBU I majored in Biblical Studies. I loved the classes and I was good at it. I had a renewed since of significance. While in college I spent time leading a ministry that worked with inner-city kids and I spent time leading DNows across Texas. I was a member of FBC Irving, a contemporary church, which was a new experience for me. But honestly the feeling of significance faded. I had to do more, to be busier, to be more plugged in to maintain that since of significance. I was beginning to feel like a bookmark again.

I finished college and moved on to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in just 3 years. Again, my since of significance was renewed. I was closer to what God wanted for me and I was in a place where I could matter more. I was working at a bookstore on campus and was quickly made an assistant manager. But the since of significance I gained from seminary faded even more quickly than the feeling I had from going to DBU. But after only a year I left LifeWay and got my first job on staff at a church (that wasn’t my home church). Yet again, I mattered…I was better than those bookish seminary students who focused wholly on school.

At FBC Euless I was the Connection (Education Ministry) Intern. I worked for our Connection Pastor Mark Yoakum and our Minister to Young Marrieds’ Darrin Brown, doing whatever they needed. I loved it. I even loved the 5 or 6 staff meetings I had to go to each month. It was work that mattered. Again, though the significance faded. But this time, my walk with Christ was considerably stronger. I had a thriving devotional time on a regular basis where I was personally engaging in the scriptures and praying. It made the fade of significance different, but I still hadn’t shed the desire to matter and to change things, so it still ultimately faded.

I left FBC Euless in the fall of 2010 and went to Lakeside Baptist Church in Dallas to serve as the full-time minister to students. Again I was filled with significance. I had students whose spiritual development mattered to me, I had interns all year, so it was like having my own staff, and I was getting to participate in the planning part of the next stage of a church. But things weren’t easy. It seemed like there was always someone who didn’t like this or hated that. There was always someone who had a problem with something. I began at Lakeside, focused on Christ, still desiring to make a difference. But I began allowing all the noise in my life, even the ministry to matter more than Christ. Not all the time, most of the time I would check myself or Taylor (I’ll tell you more about him in a minute) would check me down and remind me why I was there.

Even in the midst of ministry and in the middle of some of the best devotional times of my life, I was still fighting myself. Significance still mattered more to part of me than even Christ. I refused to be a bookmark and anything that made life look like I was serving as a placeholder just made me crazy.

Throughout this “somewhere” phase of my life, Taylor was the constant in my life. Taylor was my Barnabas, my Paul, my Peter, and my John. He was my encouragement, my motivator, constant, and my best friend. I had other friends and I was and still am friends with many other people, but Taylor was different. He challenged me spiritually. We became friends in college and still to this day, he is the friend that can call me out and challenge me and when something goes badly, he is my phone call. There is no doubt in my mind that everyone must have a “Taylor” in their lives to walk with Christ.

Going to Nowhere

In May of 2013 I left Lakeside. Honestly I had nowhere to go, but my time at Lakeside was over. My last day was a Wednesday. On Thursday morning, woke up mid-morning to a phone call from one of my grandmothers (Mom’s mom) best friends. She had fallen twice in the night and was in the E.R. in Snyder. My mom was on vacation and her sister was living out of state, so I got in the car and drove to Snyder where I found out there was a mass on her brain. We spent one night in the hospital in Snyder and were in Lubbock the next day. I spent the summer driving back and forth between Dallas and Snyder and Lubbock, all the time, trying to find a job. In August my grandmother passed away. That same month, I took a job at a valet company. Most of my since of significance was stripped away as was the family member I spent the most time talking to outside of my parents. My grandmother was a sounding board for me; we talked at least an hour a week before she passed away. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever work in ministry again.

Then in 2014, I got a call from First Baptist Church Monahans, a town about the same size as my hometown and almost exactly 70 miles southwest of Andrews. In some ways it was a hard decision. After all, for 10 years I had lived in DFW and allowed that to give me a since of significance. In other ways, it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve made. After almost a year out of vocational ministry, I knew was absolutely convince that was still God’s call on my life. So, in April of 2014, I moved from Dallas to Monahans. I bought my first house that summer and I began my ministry in the desert…in nowhere. I have now been on staff at FBC for just over a year. God continues to teach me and shape me daily.

I am Here!

One of the constant battles and fears in my life has been the fear of insignificance. I have allowed everything from where I lived to my intelligence to give me the significance I desire. The truth is, that significance can only come from Jesus Christ. I am here! I am here because this is where God wants me and HERE is enough. I will constantly fight that battle in my own heart, but daily I will surrender my heart to Him and lean on Him for significance. I can assure you that your life will matter if you rest and trust in Jesus Christ.

Published by John-David Culbertson

I am the Associate Pastor for Students at FBC Monahans. I am a graduate of Dallas Baptist University (BA in Biblical Studies) and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Advanced Masters of Divinity). I am currently enrolled as a student at Dallas Baptist University working on a Masters of Business Administration and Masters of Arts in Leadership. I love Christ and I am passionate about the church. It is my goal to server the Jesus Christ in whatever capacity He would place me and wherever He would send me.

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