Foreword by Joshua Wing
I often find it interesting that the Christians who say that their testimony is nothing special end up having the most impact on the ones who hear it. Michael is no exception. As I read through his story, I spent the first half of the story thinking “Okay, pretty normal.” And I even felt bad thinking that, because as you’ll come to discover, there is no normal. But as I read on, I was captured by his faith. At 21 years old, Michael holds an understanding of faith that is far beyond his years. I hope as you read this, you will be comforted in knowing, that even in the mundane, you are not alone. I hope you see that God’s story that you’re a part of, is one of redemption and grace. I am so thankful for Christians like Michael who are willing to share so openly, even if they feel like there’s nothing special about their story. Because, as you will discover, God uses all of us to tell His story, and there isn’t anything mundane about God’s story.
My name is Michael Kober, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to spend the next few minutes with you. For those of you who don’t know me, I’ll keep the introductions short.
First off, I’m 21, I live in Mississippi, I am a born-again believer in Jesus, and I believe He is supreme in all things. I played quite a few sports growing up, competed in Speech and Debate as well. I feel called to preach the Word of God to those around me and hope to one day pastor a church. I’ve grown up with two families about 2,000 miles away from each other. I’m a member of Baptist church, and I tried the youth ministry thing and quickly found out it was not my calling. I have trust issues, a love for hip-hop music, and I’m trying to acquire a business degree. I’m a giant nerd and sometimes I don’t know how to handle depression. I was baptized twice (sprinkled as a baby and dunked at 13). I’m a bit awkward, a future owner of a pug, influenced both by Drake and Charles Spurgeon, and I love grilled cheese. Nice to meet you.
If you haven’t noticed yet, my life isn’t a normal one.
I grew up in the small town of Butte, Montana. However, I would spend Christmas and summers visiting my mom in the South before and after she settled down in Meridian, Mississippi. Growing up with two separate families definitely isn’t easy, but it could have been a lot worse. I love both of my stepparents, and appreciate everything that they’ve done to support me, but it’s tough growing up with two families. I mean the separate Christmases were awesome, but between the long layovers spent in airports and the painful good byes, they start to add up. I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me, because honestly that’s all I’ve known growing up.
Now my family and I went to a Lutheran church when we could between the sports and the all the other stuff we had going on. I wasn’t much of the church guy, but I did believe there was a God. I couldn’t tell you much after that though, He was pretty fuzzy and indefinite, but I was certain someone was there. My faith was basic, it was child-like. I knew He was listening when I prayed, but He was doing His thing and I was doing mine.
One summer, while visiting my mom, our youth minister invited me to youth camp. I wasn’t really up for the new experience, but between the opportunity to meet new girls and a week with my friends away from home, the offer was enough for me. Expecting a campfire and some lame dude with facial hair playing an acoustic version of kumbaya, I was surprised to pull up to a college campus. Before this, all I was used to was a traditional church that followed its hymnal for 95% of its worship service. But now, worshipping with hundreds of other students was a completely new experience for me. A preacher who preached with a mixture of humor and passion was refreshing, something I didn’t get in the traditional style I was used to. And one night on that campus, God met me. I saw myself for who I really was for the very first time: someone who was broken, someone who was desperate for grace and forgiveness. It wasn’t rainbows and pancakes from there on though. It was the beginning of a learning curve that will last a lifetime. I was new to this whole Christian thing. I made my fair share of mistakes and errors. Heck, I still make mistakes and screw up. But that’s the beauty of all this. It’s a learning curve. The sooner we understand that grace is a process, the more grace shapes who we are.
My story is uneventful, mundane even. I haven’t had a near death experience that forced me to grow in my walk, or heard trembling God’s voice revealing something I’ve seemed to miss. Nope. But that doesn’t mean my story is useless. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be for most of us. I’ve found that discipleship is seemingly mundane. It’s difficult and if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty then you won’t. I’ve learned that true friendships require investment. I’m not the Chuck Norris of Christians. I’m not running into hell guns blazing, nor is that what I’m called to do. I’m called to do the stuff nobody gets credit for. To preach the gospel to all who will hear it, and to make disciples. To teach people how to follow Jesus. Guess what? That’s hard work! It takes time and effort. Both of which, very few people are willing to give up.
If there’s one thing I’ve come to realize though, it’s that adversity is everywhere. No matter where I go, what I do, it’s always there. I used to blame the people around me. My parents for how they raised me or for what I lacked growing up. My friends who drifted away after life took us different directions. I blamed the girls who left, or ones who never seemed to care in the first place. But no matter what, adversity was always right before me. Pain, suffering, hardships, and the whole nine yards. You want to know the worst thing about not being sure if you can trust people around you? Not knowing why you seem to trust so easily just to be hurt again and again. Or the worst part about growing up parents who separated? Worrying how you’re not going to make the same choices to make things different for your future family. The hard thing to accept is that I’m the problem. I can’t blame the people around me. For the most part, they were honest people who made the choices they thought were best for them. But the problem is me, and that will never change this side of eternity. Blaming other people for your problems is the easy way out. Anyone can do it. It doesn’t require change nor does it help anybody. But addressing yourself as the problem does require change, and forces you to look for answers, for solutions, a way out.
In the midst of all this, I’ve had my fair share of suffering. I know I’m only 21 and have a long ways to go, but I’m not unfamiliar with pain. I’ve lost grandparents, my older brother, and childhood friends. Trusted people who just left when things weren’t convenient anymore. Ministries I’ve failed, and people I’ve hurt. I feel like a disappointment to those closest to me, most of the time I feel insufficient and inadequate, and wondering how in the world I can turn this around.
But that doesn’t define me. My suffering and my pain are just a few things God uses to shape me into someone He can use. I’ve heard it said that “God might be doing 10,000 things around you and you might be aware of 3 of them.” I’ve learned not to look to the things that are seen (2 Corinthians 4), and that trusting God means a whole lot more than asking for help. Trusting God is the only option I have. I have no idea where I’d be without that. Suffering only shapes you, it does not define you. Grace defines you.
That’s my story. But it’s just simply a chapter of a much bigger story. All of our stories are like that. Just chapters woven together by the Author of Life into His story. His story of redemption. Of grace. I don’t have a whole lot of answers, nor can I explain all the mysteries and unexplainable areas of faith in Jesus. All I know is that He became a man, stepped down from His throne in Heaven, and was wrapped in flesh and bone. As if becoming human was not humbling enough, He wasn’t born of royalty, but was raised a carpenter. When He had begun His ministry, He had nothing, but spoke of eternal riches in heaven such as forgiveness and holiness and life. I know that He loved people, and He walked with them. He wanted to hear their story, to share in their burdens. I know He was betrayed by one of His own for a pocket full of change. He remained silent as false accusations were testified against Him. I know He endured unthinkable hardships while He was nearing His final breaths, and was willingly hung from a cross and died there. On that cross, He, a perfect man, embraced the full wrath of God. I know He paid the price we could never pay. He paid the debt we owed because of our sin. Sinners walk free because of Him. Dead men rise because of Him. Blind men see because of Him. It’s all because of Him. That’s the bigger story. That story is bigger than mine, bigger than me.
My story is not one of suffering and adversity, but one of redemption and forgiveness. God saved me and is continuing to shape and mold me into who He wants me to be for His purpose.
“I’m just a product of Grace, and guess what? I’m still in the process. It’s unfinished business.”