For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw; their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one barely escaping through the flames.
1 Corinthians 3:11-15
As Michael Lowstetter remembers his turning point in life, these verses best paint the picture of what God was doing in his life. He recounts that the best and worst point in his life was when he lost everything, but gained the greatest thing. He lost his possessions, broke his relationships, was banned from practicing in his career, and even lost his freedom. Yet he gained an overflowing life in Christ, intimacy with God beyond words, and forgiveness not only from God, but towards himself. However before he reached this victory, he had led a life of deceit and hypocrisy resulting in a federal prison sentence.
Michael Lowstetter grew up in a Christian household in Cedarville, Ohio and always did everything asked of him. He termed it “playing the game.” He saw church as a game to be played in order to gain attention and affirmation. He prayed the sinner’s prayer of salvation at an early age and he memorized bible verses from Sunday school. After High School he attended Cedarville University to study business. He worked in Christian ministry for a non-profit organization as a CFO, got married, and fathered 6 kids. By the world's perspective, Michael had an ideal life. Michael explained how he was skilled in redefining himself to mirror how society defined success.
While he knew Christ intellectually, he admits his heart was growing away from God. In 2008, he encountered financial pressures from a growing debt and the crash of the real estate market. As a solution, Michael began embezzling money from his employer; he became adept at lying to cover up his embezzlement. Because he was able to maintain this activity, while getting everything he wanted, his pride grew stronger. He continued this behavior for several years until being fired in April 2012. Following his termination, his employer contacted law enforcement to begin a criminal investigation.
The criminal investigation went on for two years, during which time he went back and forth with God. So much of his life was ambiguous, yet significant life decisions needed to be made. He struggled with surrendering himself to God. When he would turn to the Lord for guidance, he grew impatient and made his own decisions- saying to himself, “I got this.” In March of 2014, he was finally sentenced to 30 months in prison. As part of his prison sentence, Michael spent some time in transit, which is very much like solitary confinement. During this time, inmates spent the entire day in their cell, only allowed one hour each day for laundry, phone calls, showering, etc. However, on weekends inmates were expected to remain in their cell for three days straight. Even in the midst of such extreme hardship and isolation, he had yet to fully trust in God.
At the beginning of his second weekend in transit, he reached his breaking point. He found himself, on a Friday morning, crying to the Lord saying “I don’t have it at all, I don’t have this night or day, I don’t even have this weekend and I definitely don’t have this sentence!” At this point he experienced a sense of closeness to God. Peace washed over him. During the remainder of his time in transit, he continued to experience intimate sessions with God. At the same time his eyes were opened. His desire for the Word grew dramatically; the scripture he memorized growing up had a deeper meaning and revealed life applying principles he hadn’t noticed before.
After 2.5 weeks in transit, Michael transitioned to a prison camp which allowed him more freedom. Michael continued his intimate fellowship with God and joined a men’s bible study. During his first year, Michael’s intimate relationship with God grew. God was loving on him and healing him, communicating with him and pruning him. He was seeing his image and value in how God saw him, not by the world’s standards. By his second year, Michael was leading the bible studies. He shared that our God is a God of relationships; He wants us to relate to others how He relates to us. Michael states, “When we mess life up, God reconciles us back and then gives us what we need to disciple others.”
Michael's story demonstrates four common categories that we, as Christ followers, easily identify with. The comfortable Christian, the sinning Christian, the struggling Christian, and the victorious Christian. We all similarly toggle between these qualifiers throughout our journey. The first three categories are all focused on self, as such deals with pride – what I can do, what I want to do, and what I can't do. But what makes the victorious Christian distinctly different is how they are in total surrender to God’s will; coming to the end of themselves, both intellectually and physically, and fully focused on what Christ can do. Once again, God has proven true righteousness has nothing to do with us and everything to do with the power of Jesus Christ. But the only way to get there is by giving over ourselves to the Lord daily: "for in it, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written ‘The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17).