I remember the day vividly. It was a Sunday, and I was at church. Initially, I was panic stricken. But as the days and months went by, I became angry. Angry at my parents, and angry at my church “family.”
A recent poll I read stated that 80% of Americans claim to be Christian. Growing up my family and I were part of that 80%. We didn’t go to church, but we knew there was a Creator of the Universe. And that Jesus guy? He was God’s son. We knew that too. That made us Christians. Right???
Come to think of it, what did I know? I knew Jesus was God’s only Son. I knew He was a person who lived, who was persecuted, and who died on a cross. And I know He died as a sacrifice so that I could go to Heaven. And I was genuinely grateful for that. And I loved my Father in Heaven. That much is true. But can you love God without being a Christian? I did. I don’t care how you argue that. I did.
Rewind: It was summer, and so as customary, I was driven to Idaho to stay the summer with my grandmother while my parents traveled for the summer looking for a new house. Grandma went to church, and so I did too. I went every year during the summer with her. And I listened to what was said–every word of it. I remember one year there was a coloring contest. I was 14 and I didn’t feel like coloring. Seriously. Coloring? The pastor told my grandmother (rather dramatically within ear’s shot of me) that he was so disappointed that no one had entered from the older group. Of course, I went home and colored the picture to make this poor old gray haired man’s heart heal. My 15 year old sister did too.
The next Sunday, I was completely embarrassed when they announced the winners of the coloring contests. All the young kids went laughing and screaming up to the front of the church to collect their prizes. And then they called my name. I was at least twice as big as those kids. And I had won the grand prize. A bible. They all got crayons and coloring books. I got a bible. Well, of course I was embarrassed to walk up there and get my prize. But I also felt like I was stealing candy from all these babies–in front of the entire church! It wasn’t fair that I should get this valuable treasure!
You see, this is what I knew about bibles:
- Grandma had one. All day she read or worked in the garden. I never saw her do anything else if we were home.
- Our pastor had one. He read several verses each Sunday flipping back and forth, back and forth–the old people could keep up with him, the rest of us followed along on the screen projector.
- My oldest sister had a bible. When she died, it was put on the top shelf as a “special treasure”–so special that we never touched it. I never saw it opened. My mother said it was the most important thing in our house. I see the irony now.
Here I was at 14–winning the grand prize when obviously I should never have been in competition with these little kids. And I won a treasure–something you didn’t have unless you were
old well seasoned, or dying. Well, of course I went home and read the entire thing front to back that summer. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me. So I read it again that year, and the next year. I was determined to keep reading it until it made total sense. At the time, it was a big history book and I was just trying to read the stories. History has always been my worst subject.
Fast Forward: Two summers later, while at Granny’s house for the summer I spent a lot of time reading my bible. But I also spent a lot of time thinking about the lives of these people at this church. There were some people there that I would consider “fake Christians” sure (I spent way too much time judging others when I was 16), but there were also people who were different than anyone I knew at home. When I went home for the rest of the year, I wouldn’t come across any people in my living-bubble with this kind of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control. I noticed that although I was happy with my life, I was missing these things. Deep joy. Deep kindness. Deep faithfulness. I wanted all that. I spent the beginning of the summer thinking that maybe it was just because I was 16. Doesn’t everyone wish they were someone or something else when they are 16? But then I starting begging him for these things. I admitted, “I know I’m only 16, and I am sooooooo not worthy to ask for any gifts. If I just need to be older to have these things, then is there a way you could just tell me this? But if that’s not it, and I’m just missing something–could you just tell me somehow?” Although I was happy in life, I just craved to be a different happy.
That Sunday. That Sunday. The message was different. Instead of a lecture on love, or a lecture on sacrifice, or a lecture on sin, or a lecture on forgiveness, the sermon put it all together. For me, it was the first time it was put all together. The pastor stated, “Just bear with me, but it’s been laid on my heart to do things a little differently right now. We’ll be back to normal next week.” He said that I was a sinner, and that if Jesus hadn’t died for me I would be eternally separated from God–I knew these things. What he said next is what made my stomach turn. He said that if I didn’t invite Jesus to live in my heart and let Him rule my life that I wasn’t saved. He said that God doesn’t force His way into anyone’s life–it’s a choice. What? I have to do something about this free gift? A formal acceptance? I did not know this–I’d never done this.
I was in shock to say the least. How could I have missed this? Wasn’t I a straight A student? Don’t I read my bible regularly? Don’t I listen in church? Aren’t I smart?
Then panic struck me. What if I’d died before I got to church this morning? I am on my way to hell right now! I have to do something about this. What do I do? How can I fix this?
When he closed the sermon, he invited us to stand with him, and said if anyone here would like to accept this free gift, and hasn’t done so yet, pray with me. And I did in my heart. I asked Jesus into my life–fully.
After the service was over, everyone went out for the normal pot luck in the foyer and I stayed behind. When I was sure I was by myself and all the doors were closed, I went to the alter, got down on my knees and cried. Really cried. I cried for my stupidity. I cried for my pride because the day before I thought I was smart. I cried because I could have still been on my way to hell. And I cried because at that moment I believed that my parents didn’t love me. My parents never taught me about Jesus. In fact, they didn’t take any of us to church ever–their marriage was more important than my eternal salvation. If there’s one thing I remember about my father growing up, it was how he always instilled in me that he knew more than I did–and that he knew what was best for me. I believed this. If my father knew these things and never told me, then there was only one possible answer–he didn’t love me.
My emotions turned to anger. Anger that my parents would let me go to hell because they wanted their earthly marriage to be peaceful. Anger at my “church family” because not one of them ever told me this either–so obviously they didn’t love me either.
You see, Satan knows when we are most vulnerable–when we are tired, when we are hungry, when we are put into a position of ministry, and when we are having a spiritual high–or when he just lost us for good.
I’ve had time to heal. I have come to understand why people may have acted (or not acted) the way they did. I now have a compassion for my parents, and I pray for their salvation every day. I have shared the good news with them to make sure someone told them. And I understand that many people like to be people-pleasers, and don’t like confrontation. Satan encourages people not to possibly “upset” or “offend” someone with the gospel. I believe now that people didn’t know how to talk to me.
And I have probably offended people in my journey to share this free gift. I make sure to tell people I know “You probably don’t want to hear this from me, or right now, but I love you too much not to tell you.” Some people have responded well, and met their Savior. Some people have not responded well to me. In fact, this was the last conversation I had with my mother–before she walked out of my life. I miss her dearly, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Because I love her too much to have never told her. I pray for her salvation. And I have peace in my heart, because if she never chooses to accept Jesus for who He is–it wasn’t because someone didn’t tell her.
Have you been told the good news? Have you told everyone that you love? What are your stumbling blocks or hesitations?