8/26/2006

First Shot...

This is my first shot at a "spiritual autobiography" for my seminary application. My wife (quite rightly) thinks it needs some changes. I'll work on those, but I thought I'd put this out there so people can get to know my story better. It's pretty long! Good luck.


My name is Benjamin Bartlett.

As a child, this was a source of amusement for my peers. “Ben Fart-lett!” they would shout, impressed by their own creativity. I never minded. My name brought pride and comfort. It was given to me by my parents, Mark and Carolyn Bartlett. My story and spiritual autobiography begins with them.

My father is a businessman, and quite influential. My mom was a simple farm girl from Canada. My dad was hard, sarcastic, and extremely smart, but he was patient and loving with his kids and an excellent teacher. My mom was a feeler, and could barely get through a book, but she had fire and passion for God oozing from every pore of her body.

As a young man, I once asked my mom why she married my dad when so many people perceived him as being hard to love and impossible to live with. Her reply was enlightening.
“Submission.” she said. “I knew that he was submitted to God, and as long as that was in place I knew I could trust him in marriage.”

That became their theme for children as well. My mom constantly battled to cause her children to submit their wills, not merely to her, but to godly principles. She had strong rules. She challenged me in everything. She forced me to attend church activities from the day I was born until the day I left for college. She rarely let us quit any sport or activity. She challenged our attitudes when we were victorious. She challenged our frustration when we lost. She attacked complaints, teasing, discontent, irreverence, and any other perceivable sin of the heart with almost reckless abandon. When a teacher or parent would yell or raise their voice, it never fazed me the way it did other kids, because it never compared to my mom’s unique version of loving us by screaming at the top of her lungs.

My dad was often the peacemaker. He was careful not to contradict my mom, but was thoughtful in helping us understand her loving and passionate heart. Though I thought her overreactions were horrible, he helped show that they came from the overflow of powerful emotions, not spite or dislike. He was also an excellent example in almost all areas; he spent plenty of time with all his kids, he was a leader in our church, he provided everything we ever needed and more, and he loved our family.

This environment shaped me as a child. In most ways, it was quite positive. I was trained to understand the Christian faith. I was excellent at Bible trivia, and had little problem understanding Bible study lessons or sermons. I was respectful toward adults, and never got into any major trouble. When my dad became an elder, I was no hindrance to the biblical standards. I was heavily involved in youth activities, including mission trips to Venezuela, Scotland, and New Mexico. I also worked and counseled for a Bible camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Most importantly, the truth of the gospel was made clear and modeled well. God’s saving action in my heart came at the ripe old age of seven- and like so many church kids, this was followed by several recommitments to “make sure,” over the next few years. I was baptized, and at that point was allowed by my parents to take part in communion.

At the same time, my environment created some natural struggles. I was not as smart or disciplined as my dad, and spent much time attempting to impress him and be like him. However, I was also lazy, and experienced many disappointing failures (or close shaves!) as a result. I was also scared of my mom’s anger, and became a liar and deceiver to “protect” myself. Many times I would fail to do what I had been asked, and would have to scramble later to hide or make up for it. Other times I would develop airtight alibis or excuses for wrong actions, making it hard for my mom to justifiably punish me even when she was in the right. When she punished me wrongly, I was angry and resentful, never hesitating to express to friends how unfair she was to me.

When I entered college, my sin and self-centeredness came back to bite me. It began simply enough. I was lazy, and my grades suffered as a result. For some classes, I did not bother studying. For others, I barely attended. Generally, the only classes I worked hard in were on political theory.

Politics and church activities were the only things that interested me. My mind was that of a lawyer, able to deconstruct and pick apart arguments with ease. I loved politics and found that I was a natural leader in both church and secular activities. I planned to finish college and work my way up through the ranks of party politics or lobbyist circles.

In the meantime, I was admired in church circles. My Bible knowledge and speaking ability caused peers and leaders to trust me. I truly believed the truth of the Bible and wanted to do the right thing, but it was mostly intellectual. I looked for a fellowship group where I could quickly become a leader.

For some reason, God caused me to choose a small Intervarsity chapter called the Chinese Christian Fellowship. In my mind I was choosing it to help their weakness in the area of Bible knowledge. In retrospect, I can see God knew I desperately needed the molding intimacy of a small community. This group became my focus, where I tried to build friendships and teach the Bible with increasing effectiveness. I burned with anger toward sin and a desire to see the Truth upheld.

However, my emotionally bankrupt faith caught up with me. I was lonely and depressed. I fell into sin, looking to a non-Christian girl to fulfill me. Though the adultery of my heart was never fully consummated, it was evil in God’s eyes. My desire was to be happy, not to glorify my Redeemer.

Patiently, a good friend showed me my sin. His calm challenges, along with my recognition of how far I had fallen, caused me to change. I experienced a time of challenge and self-examination. I saw my life and hated it, and began the process of repenting and coming back to a place of obedience to God.

By my junior year, God had driven the deep sin from my life and brought me back to a healthy pursuit of Him. I had been humbled, but still lacked real knowledge of the Bible. I knew trivia, but needed to know theology if I was to become who God wanted me to be.

I went to Washington DC to complete a semester-long internship. I questioned God, because I had begun building truly intimate relationships with the other people in CCF, (most notably, my eventual best friend Jared and a young lady named Samantha) and did not see how this previously planned trip fit into his plans. When I arrived, I had no idea where I would go to church or what I would do.

As we know, though, God’s plans are always the right plans. My first night in DC was a Friday, and at an MSU alumni dinner I met a girl who was a Christian. She told me that her church was just a block or two away from where I lived. That Sunday, I attended church with her. I never saw her again, but God’s purpose for her in my life was clear. The church was Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

There, I met the leader of the college ministry. He introduced me to James Santos, an intern at CHBC. We set up a weekly mentoring/accountability meeting. All of this happened my first Sunday there!

It began a time period of learning and growth. In my time with James, we read and discussed John Piper’s, “The Pleasures of God,” and J.I. Packer’s, “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.” I was also learning from Dr. Dever’s thoughtful expository preaching, and from articles in dozens of helpful websites.

When I went home, I was quite different. My knowledge of the faith was no longer merely technical… it was a knowledge of the soul, coming from a heart that had been humbled and then guided in wiser paths. My faith went beyond a commitment to the truth, and became a commitment to the person of God as my King, my Savior, and my Guide. I did not just believe in God; I loved Him.

I believed that was the end of the surprises. I felt God would now help me develop as a Christian politician, one able to defend the faith and speak for the Truth. However, such was not to be.

One Sunday during my senior year, I was home from college for Christmas break. A pastor from another church taught the Sunday school, and he talked about his passion for God’s people, for God’s truth, and for the Church. As he was sharing, I broke down in tears. For no apparent reason, I sobbed with a mixture of fear, relief, and joy. I knew; knew, that I was being called to the ministry. Later, my pastor and church would agree.

Since that day at the end of 2003, I have been preparing to fulfill this call. I have involved myself heavily in my local church, serving as a Sunday school teacher, deacon, and occasional preacher. I married Samantha Quan in the summer of 2005, and began experiencing all the pains and joys of being in love. I have been reading and studying constantly. I have involved myself in several mentoring and accountability relationships. I have tried to focus on glorifying God both in my efforts now and in preparing for whatever He has for me down the road.

On December 20, 2005, my mom died from cancer. She was 44. Her death brought the opportunity to look back over what God has done in my life. Though she was as imperfect as the rest of us, I have been able to better appreciate the passion she had for God. I have also come to appreciate my father’s loving and faithful leadership even more than before, without comparing myself or feeling inferior.

The process of working through the grief and discontent that followed my mom’s death has made me even more certain of God’s call. He has wonderfully prepared me with excellent parents, a solid education, a good mind, a godly wife, humbling experiences, and a burning passion to see His kingdom established in the world. I am still a weak and sinful person. However, my hope and prayer is that God will use seminary to continue molding me into a person able to express the glory of the gospel to a needy world, and able to help bring the church to a place of complete worship and obedience to Him.

2 comments:

amanda said...

:)I am so glad you were accepted into seminary

Grace said...

Hey Ben this is grace from camp, i'm not sure if you remember me. I was looking for a picture of your mom on the internet for a english project, it's about people you look up to and this came up on google. It was nice reading this. I hear your going to JV this summer and you're speaking there to, but i'm only going to varsity this year but i hope everything goes well!