Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Yes, I Follow Jesus

This weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to go on a personal retreat.  There is a ministry named Rest Ministries whose function is to provide an inn to those who are weary.  It is a place to escape from the busy world and enjoy a true Sabbath rest for as long as one desires.  For me, I arrived on Saturday afternoon and left Monday morning.

There are many stories I could tell about my time there, resting and drawing closer to God.  One thing that occurred to me is that I haven't always been so open about the fact that I am a Christian on my blog.  I have eluded to God at times, but I don't recall being direct.

Part of my hesitation in the past was that identifying with Christ so often conjures all of our stereotypes about Christians (note that I used "our" because I have them, too).  I was also fearful of drawing unwanted attacks for this claim, and I didn't want it to possibly hinder my writing by having a label of "Christian" attached to me.  I have realized this weekend that I can address the first concern and that the second really doesn't matter.

I grew up in church, but that didn't make me a Christian.  I heard a pastor say once, "You can stand in a garage all day, but that doesn't make you a car."  No one is born a Christian.  No one can be forced to become a Christian.  But anyone can become a Christian.

What I saw in the church I grew up in was hypocrisy: people claiming to follow God but who didn't live it out the rest of the week.  I think the motto of most of the congregation was, "Get in, get your God, get out."  Again, I don't think this was everyone, but it was a large enough population that I saw church as a farce.

When I went to college, I was finished with church.  I had no interest in rejoining the hypocrisy.  I believed God was real, but I couldn't act fake anymore.  It was time to live my life the way I wanted, not how my parents wanted me to.  I maintained good grades, but I also got involved in a lot of wickedness that I am unwilling at this time to reveal over a blog.  Take your guess.  Take several guesses.  They're probably all correct.

After college, I got married.  Soon afterwards, my wife wanted to go to church.  It had been years since I had gone to anything beyond the mandatory Christmas service, but I knew how to fake it.  If it made her happy, then so be it.  Time to turn on the "Christian" smile once more.

This time, however, I had a pastor asking me point blank if I was saved.  I'd never heard the term before, so I had to clarify what he meant.  What he meant was that I had a relationship with Jesus - that I knew him as my lord and savior.  What that meant, I didn't know, but I was pretty sure I didn't.  I was evasive with my answer.  This wasn't what I wanted in church.  Just let me sit in the pew and sing some songs and get on with life, like my childhood congregation.  Still, I started to get a little worried.  After all, I thought God was real, and if so, I wasn't on his side.

Soon, we left that church for various reasons, but my wife wanted to find another place.  By this point, I was very much against anything that resembled pews or organ music.  I didn't want anything like that model.  So she found an ad for a church with a man smiling and holding a cup of coffee.  Well, that certainly didn't seem like pews and hymns to me, so I agreed to go.

What I found were... people.  Actual people.  There wasn't anything fake I could detect.  When they prayed, they meant it.  They weren't reciting words from a bulletin; they were praying and even crying.  And they were so genuine with all of their interactions around church.

Around this time, I read "Left Behind" by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.  The premise of the fictional book is this: what would the world look like if Jesus called all believers into heaven right now?  Everyone else is left behind, and they're trying to figure out what happened.  By the end of the book, I realized that if that did happen, I would be left behind.

I was also faced with this passage: "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6)  It was specific.  It was direct.  It was shocking.  But it was also comforting; there was a way.

All of us are born with sin; "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)  It doesn't matter what you may classify as sin, whether through the Bible or through your own moral code.  Regardless, we have each broken that code, and because of that, we are separated from God.

There is nothing in our own power to make ourselves right with God.  No amount of good deeds can counterbalance our iniquities.  It's not like a speeding ticket where you pay a fine and then all is well.

God didn't like that humanity was in sin, but he would have been perfectly just to allow us to remain that way without any hope of connecting with Him.  But He decided there would be another way.

One quick note about God: there is one God who exhibits Himself in three persons: God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, depending on your Bible translation).  I comprehend this reality by thinking of it this way: the three of them are in such a perfect relationship that they are One.  I came to this conclusion because Jesus prayed for Christians to be one, just as He and the Father are one.  God doesn't alternate between persons; there have always been and always will be three distinct persons.  That's another thing: God isn't an effect caused by something (or someone) else.  God is eternal, meaning He always was and ever will be.  Crazy concept, but that's likely due to the fact that people all have a distinct point in time when we came into being.  God does not.

So God decided on a new plan.  In order to permanently and forever wipe out the effects of sin, He sent Jesus to Earth.  His mission was to live a perfect life and then die as an ultimate sacrifice.  Upon the cross, God the Father poured His wrath upon Jesus, and humanity was saved.  But it is a gift that each person can either accept or reject.  The choice is up to each one of us to make, but we must make it before we die.

Driving home from work one day, I decided I didn't want to continue life on my own.  I wanted to connect to God.  I wanted to be with Him forever.  So I prayed my own words to that effect and said that I wanted Jesus.  It was as simple as that.  There aren't specific words to utter; all that's needed is to ask to follow Jesus.  And He'll let you.  He stands at the door.  All we need to do is open it.

Yes, I am a Christian, but I can still be your friend.  Don't assume I follow the stereotypes.  I might not; in fact I try not to (but no promises).

"Really?" you ask.  "But I believe..."  I'll still be your friend.

"But I think..."  I'll still be your friend.

"But I am..."  I'll still be your friend.

My enemies are in the spiritual realm, not flesh and blood.  I am instructed to live in peace with everyone, as much as it is up to me.

If you're reading this and want to ask more questions about me or about God or about the Bible, have at.  Post here or send me an email.  I won't be upset or offended, and I'll answer honestly.  I lived for 23 years without Jesus, so I remember very well what that was like. 

No comments: