Twenty-seven years ago, in late October, I walked into the evening service of a tiny storefront church wearing a long, dark-gray cape with black trim, hair down the middle of my back, and – if I recall my limited wardrobe correctly – a black shirt and black jeans.
Unlike many other converts, I can’t give you the specific date, because I’d spent the previous eight years on an epic quest to ingest mind-altering substances at every possible opportunity. (I needed a very strict drug-regimen to keep my mind limber)
I had the undeserved good fortune to have a gorgeous, gracious wife. I had left college but managed to hold down assorted minimum-wage jobs. At the end of the day though, I was a psychic wreck. An exile without country, direction, or future.
At the conclusion of a service I remember as ridiculous and repetitive, a man asked to pray with me. “All I have to offer you,” he said. “is Jesus.” That was it – an honest prayer. He told me the strength, the veracity of all Christianity’s claims rested on Jesus Himself.
So, not expecting anything to happen, I went forward, knelt on this water-stained commercial carpet, and asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins. ( I knew I had done plenty of things wrong) I asked Him to make Himself real, and – if He was real – to help me live for Him the rest of my days.
Jesus met me there.
I stood up, mind reeling with the brand-new awareness of the reality of God. I don’t mean merely acknowledging the metaphysical possibility of a Creator, engaging in some titillating intellectual exercise, but a potent, intimate presence of God. Specifically the Person of Jesus.
Not only did I experience forgiveness, but I had been changed in some very subtle, visceral way. Jesus had untwisted my soul.
I won’t go into the details of the following weeks; all the emotions, the moments of clarity, the ‘coincidences’, the incidents and interventions. All those minor miracles that only mean things to me. Suffice it to say that Presence, this “Jesus person”, stayed with me. At home, at work, on the beach, in the shopping market. When I woke up and when I fell asleep. It was bizarre, exciting, and not a little scary.
Of course I was free to deny what happened. What was happening. But I knew I’d be lying to myself, and I had the sense that in doing so, I’d pawn away something singularly remarkable.
I began to read the New Testament. Not as Comparative Religion 101 Cliff Notes, but I had to learn more if I was going to stay honest and follow though.
I learned my sin had separated me from God (that ‘lost’ feeling) but God loved me regardless. Jesus claimed to be the remedy not only for my crimes, but my criminal tendencies, and that because of Him, I could be reconciled back in right relationship with God, with myself, and with others. Jesus stated He would allow Himself to be executed, then come back to life after three days. That would be the ultimate proof of God’s Love and the verification of His teaching. Somehow, this Risen Savior had touched me in that little church at that ragged alter.
Underneath all the fur flying, Mike Duran’s latest post The Anti-Evangelical Hate Machine touches the nerve of Christian Reproach. Jesus’ claims to divinity and exclusive salvation are superbly controversial, and such statements don’t play well in our Tolerant-sensitive society. And culturally-attuned, non-believers pounce while many Christians waffle and mince.
Now anyone who reads history or follows the news can stumble over the surplus of perfectly legitimate Mockery-Ammo other “believers” have strewn about through excess, myopia and outright stupidity. We’ve all experienced conviction by blunt trauma in some way or another. No question, it’s wretched and wrong. And so, wanting to clarify, to be liked, to avoid the ‘bigot’ label and exhibit some of the grace we’ve been shown, many Christians take the opposite tack.
I get it. It’s just that short of denying who and what Jesus specifically claimed to be, there’s no avoiding backlash. Our fumbling doesn’t help, but people don’t like being told they’re wrong, that they’re not “all good”, “all set just they way they are.” Even worse, deeper problems arise when Christians overcompensate and swing to the equal and opposite error. Correction becomes a deliberate retreat, a mewling obfuscation of Jesus’ absolute uniqueness.
More than dilution, this is castration. A denial. Jesus, the Second Person of the Godhead is recast as a social-worker, a moral teacher, another healer/guru/mentor. As such, He’s nothing special, incapable of offering anything eternal.
Fact is, a “Christian” religion that avoids Jesus’ singular identity and the hearer’s personal sinfulness is not simply anemic, it’s futile. It’s not Christianity. It offers no genuine answers for life, for the soul.
Confession: I’ve been ready to walk away from Christianity plenty of times in the previous decades. Ignorance, insipidness, a thousand accreted hypocrisies, vapid emotionalism, form over content, severe dysfunction… in myself and others. Frankly, disillusionment has hounded the steps of every blessing. It’s enough to make a person throw up their hands in disgust and bin the whole mess.
But I can’t get away from Jesus.
He’s never done me wrong. Never let me down. Never lied to me or rejected me. He’s been there. Sometimes with bitter medicine, but always there.
As a Christian, I’ll answer for my misconduct, my misrepresentations. However I feel strongly that it’s a fatal mistake for me to deploy my fear of rejection as an excuse to demean Jesus – to shush Him up, tidy Him up like an errant child before a family dinner. As if He’d embarrass me.
More likely, I embarrass Him. Yet He sticks around. Forgiving me, helping me, promising to see me through and eventually bring me to Himself.
That’s the Jesus that saved me twenty-seven years ago. It wasn’t some constipated, religious fascist or a pliable hippie guru. Believe it or not, He was God in the flesh. That’s the Jesus I try to introduce where ever I go.
Because that’s the One you need to meet.