“I used to believe that weak men fabricated religion as a crutch to help them through this life, and what I have found so ironic is that the Christian life is the harder, less traveled road. I have found the application of God’s Word to be the most masculine, empowering, and natural experience a man can have.”
“I grew up in a home were there was more emphasis placed on family than God,” said Stiles Harper. “We prayed the same generic, meaningless prayers before meals, focused on being ‘appropriate,’ and kept our religion private and comfortable. Going to church on Sundays was sufficient; God was an accessory, not a lifestyle. These childhood patterns created natural tendencies toward reliance on myself, not God, for everything from my self-worth to how I handled conflict to how I made decisions.
“Because we relied on the unity of our family, not God, to provide strength and stability, when my parents divorced when I was 13, it derailed me. Afterward, I fell between the cracks and became lost without their supervision, boundaries, and leadership. Hungry for affirmation, I began making decisions on an approval-based system, seeking what would bring me validation, attention, and comfort from others. This led to womanizing, fighting, substance abuse, and then 12 years of isolation, insecurity, lying, self-promotion, and numbness. I am still reaping the consequences of my actions during this time of my life.
“If you had asked me my perspective on God, I would have told you that He was fake until proven otherwise. My exposure to Christian men at that point had left much to be desired. I scoffed at Christians for being weak, for needing to brainwash themselves into believing something that was not real to distract them from the tough realities of this world. It seemed too convenient – like a fabricated hope.
“September 3, 2016 changed all of that. The weekend of Watermark’s young adults retreat hit me in the chest. My then-girlfriend, Jenna, who is now my wife, persuaded me to go – one of the many ways that God has used her to bring me closer to Him. I was surrounded by hundreds of men with pasts like mine who had been transformed by following Christ. Those men led lives that I’d strived for and failed to achieve for years. I realized that: 1) I wanted what they had, 2) what they had came from the same thing, and 3) if they could get that one thing, maybe I could, too. They followed Jesus, and because I chose to follow them, they led me right to Him.
“Upon returning to Dallas, I took their advice and plugged into community at Watermark, sought help on how to pray and read Scripture, devoted daily, and quickly moved out of the apartment where I had been living with Jenna. Shortly afterward, I came to re:generation, Watermark’s biblical recovery ministry. I didn’t know a thing about God, so I figured that this would be a good place to start.
“The personal inventory step of re:gen rocked me. I consolidated all my resentments, fears, and the harms that I had caused into one overwhelmingly long list. It was an itemized receipt of the damage that I had done to myself and to others. This list put the gospel into real perspective. I realized that Jesus chose to die for me, despite that ugly list of sin, and the gospel became tangible and personal in a way that it had never been for me.
“Since then, Christ has not only redeemed me from ‘the years that the locusts had eaten’ (Joel 2:25), but He has so changed me that I do not recognize the man I was prior to being saved by Him.” Jenna and I walked through a year of purity before we got married, because of Jesus. The outstanding debts I had against others and the conflict in my life have been resolved, because of Jesus. I have value and worth beyond what I thought capable. I have been emboldened and strengthened, because of Jesus. The daily struggles continue – a bad temper, impatience, passivity and cowardice – and yet with the application of His Word, I am able to see through the haze to what is actually true: that God loves me, that He has the best for me, and that everything else pales in comparison.
“I used to believe that weak men fabricated religion as a crutch to help them through this life, and what I have found to be so ironic is that the Christian life is the harder, less traveled road. I have found the application of God’s Word to be the most masculine, empowering, and natural experience a man can have, and what a privilege it has been to step into it. Just this month, my wife, Jenna, and I have moved so I can go to medical school. I’m thankful for all the Lord has done through our years in Dallas and look forward to seeing how He will use my work in the medical field for His glory.
“If I were talking to a guy just like myself 10 years ago, I would want him to know that the hole inside that he keeps trying to fill is an eternity-sized hole that God has set in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The only thing that can fill an eternitysized hole is something of eternal size. Only God is that big.”