I am not a spiritual person.
Pretty cool way to start my faith story right? Well, hang in there. There is a reason why I start with this. But before I explain, let me back track a bit to the good ol' days. I was born in Belleville, NJ on November 21, 1984. My parents, Vilma and Guillermo Torres, are both from the Island of Puerto Rico so, as can be imagined, I went to school, ate arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans) almost every day, and attended a latino Adventist church in the city of Newark (yeah, I'm from Newark).
Back in my day Newark was known as one of the worst cities in Jersey (not sure if it still is). Gangs ran the streets. Prostitutes, drugs, violence and vandalism were everywhere. And it’s common for kids growing up there to end up involved in some of this noise. Somehow I never did. But its not because I'm spiritual or something. Remember, I'm not a spiritual person.
Being from a Christian family I had a pretty good idea of what the right path was but I also lived with the self-awareness, even from a young age, that I wasn't naturally drawn to that path. I tried lots of things to fix that. I read the Bible more. Prayed more. Memorized scripture. Did the will power thing. I even got myself a Giga-Pet (they were pretty cool back then) thinking that maybe if I just stayed busy I wouldn’t have time to do the negative things that took me away from the path. But it never really worked long term.
It was during these years that I began to put God in the back burner. Sure, I still found the Bible interesting, had enough of a moral compass to stay out of serious trouble and had nothing against God per-se, but I simply found little interest in the surrendered-to-God life. I was happy to keep him within eye distance, but I wasn't looking to go all out. I just wasn't that interested.
Then came my junior and senior years in high-school when I found myself having to choose between God and a relationship. That was the first time in my life where I found myself at a cross roads. Either I followed God or I went my own way for good. I wish I could say I did the right thing, but I didn't. I didn’t choose God at all. I tried, but I failed. I just wasn’t spiritual enough. But something weird happened. I didn't have peace. My heart was in a strange place. And it didn't make any sense because I wasn't interested in God. So why was I all of a sudden so uncomfortable with choosing to walk away from him? I didn't know it at the time, but God was on the pursuit. The relationship did end, but it wasn't my doing. And to this day I consider that to have been a God thing. God knew I wasn’t strong enough to make the right choice so he stepped in. He had been chasing me all along and now he had me cornered. I felt like it was the end of the world at the time, but the truth is God had just brought me to my starting point. He brought me to a place where I had to make an active choice I was hoping to avoid. And by his Spirits leading, I chose to follow him. And I have never looked back.
Today, when I think about the people in my life I realize that many have chosen human relationships over God. In nearly every case the story is the same. Got their girl pregnant or ended up taking steps away from God and got stuck for the next ten or more years trying to sort out the mess they created. I was nearly there. I didn't realize it at the time. But the reason why I didn't have peace even though I wasn't interested in God is because God was interested in me. He was chasing me. Pursuing me relentlessly wanting to deliver me from a path of sorrow and regret. He was tugging at a heart that wanted nothing to do with him. And in the end, he won.
Shortly after the breakup I thought, If I am going to miss out for God then I might as well do something other than warm chairs at church. So I started getting to know God and telling others about him at gatherings and worship spaces. As a result I met Jesus, not in some single magical moment, but gradually and for the first time in my life. From there, God sprung me into a wild and awesome life. I joined the Army, lived in Hawaii, played in a worship band, graduated from university, made some of the most amazing friends and memories, and experienced adventure and excitement I couldn't have imagined. I also met the girl of my dreams, whom I have been with now for ten years. We live in Australia where I work as a full time pastor, have two awesome kids and some pretty fresh plans for the future. If I'm honest though, none of this is because of or about me. I wasn’t interested in God. I wasn’t looking for God. God came looking for me. I am not spiritual. I never have been. And as I stood on a stage to speak for the first time, traveled across the world to tell others about Jesus and sat down to write this story its only because God is a god who chases. He chased me until he caught me.
I have learned throughout my life that God comes after us, not because we are found, but because we are lost. He calls out to us not because we are perfect, but because we are sinners. And as I look at every significant moment of my life in the past three decades, I can see one consistent pattern – God chasing me. Each and every time I have made a significant step in the spiritual journey it has been because God initiated the search. Not me. If God had never chased me, I would never (and I mean never) have looked for him.
I never want anyone to look at “Pastor Marcos” and wish they were as spiritual as I am or that their marriage was as perfect as mine is. I’m not spiritual. My marriage is not perfect. And my kids are not perfect. I don’t have what it takes to be a Christian. I don’t have the strength to be faithful. My only hope is Jesus. Even today I have a hard time reading my Bible and praying. I have to force myself to do it sometimes and it’s so easy and natural for me to just skip it and go about my day. I also have a hard time being a man of God. I don’t always succeed. I don’t always reflect his love the way I know I should. If left alone I would wander helplessly into who knows where and if it weren’t for God chasing me day after day, year after year, relentlessly and with a love that will not give me up, I would not be who I am. Never in my life have I looked for him. He has always come looking for me. And the only thing that is going to keep me from turning my back on Jesus is the ever-present reality of this God who chases. God is never going to stop chasing me. And so long as he chases me I can rest. And I can't wait to meet him face to face.