I know you. We’ve never met, but I still know you. You see, I was like you during one long stretch of my life. I didn’t know if God existed and it didn’t really seem to matter. I grew up in church. Maybe you did, too. My folks were active members of my childhood congregation in Oklahoma City. They made me dress up in tight-collared dress shirts every Sunday for worship. I traipsed off to Vacation Bible School every summer and received a Revised Standard Version as my confirmation award.
Maybe you didn’t grow up in church. No matter. You are still like I was during my adolescent and young adult years, not caring if God exists. You’re probably not a hard-boiled atheist. Neither was I. But I might as well have been, because God wasn’t part of my life except when I needed a convenient cuss word. The things of heaven had no impact on my life on earth.
Now you may be expecting to say that I turned to God after doing prison time or ending up in a drug rehab center. It wasn’t quite that dramatic. I was drinking too much at the time and I probably should’ve ended up in jail with some of the company I was keeping. But my conversion wasn’t the kind that would sell books or be turned into a tear-jerker movie.
I turned to God quietly. There were no trumpets or angels descending. I can’t even pinpoint an exact moment; it was more of a series of moments over a year or so. There was the time my wife talked me into returning to church and the preacher actually said some relevant things. Instead of running into prune-faced folks who scowled with thick Bibles in tow, we met some young couples who didn’t have all the answers but were searching, too (they even had a sense of humor, which surprised me). There was the moment when I dusted off my old confirmation Bible to check out the Gospels. There were also the days when I couldn’t get Jesus off my mind.
Then came the revelation, one Sunday morning as we were singing a hymn from my childhood, that God actually loved me. Not just that “He so loved the world” as John 3:16 states, but that He loved me in all my messy glory. In that flash of time, I realized that God had been loving me all along, mysteriously guiding me in prevenient grace through all my missteps and mistakes to this special moment. I wasn’t a real emotional guy, but I felt my throat knot up and my eyes glaze with tears. This was a love that no human could give and no power could take away. I knew that my life was about to change.
And it did. One thing led to another, and eventually I ended up in the ordained ministry. Don’t worry, God doesn’t call everyone to preach or become a missionary in Outer Bicyclistan. But all believers have one thing in common: we have been changed and we are changing still. It doesn’t mean that we are perfect (just ask our families about that one). Becoming a believer doesn’t make someone a sinless wonder or a stained glass icon. But we are put on a different path, one where God lends insight, forgiveness, power and correction. We begin to walk on a road of awe, wonder and beauty, where things that looked ordinary before take on a divine sheen. This journey helps us to focus less on our problems and opens our eyes to the needs of others. Yet at the end of the day, in a paraphrase of Pastor J.D. Greear’s words, our identity and security are not in spiritual progress, but in God’s acceptance as a gift in Christ.
I know, I know. You don’t want to become a Christian because they’re hypocrites, worship services are boring, and there are too many churches claiming to be “the one.” I get that. There are two-faced believers and churches aren’t seamlessly perfect. But you will find, like I did, that God is real and true, the only Loving Constant when people fail and life disappoints.
I won’t judge you if you reject what I have to say. In my unconverted years, a few Christians bullied and pressured me to “accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.” But others lovingly taught me, modeled for me and allowed God some elbow room to guide me to my decision.
I’ve made a lot of choices in my life that I regret. But I have never regretted following God.
I bet you won’t, either…even though we’ve never met.