Thirty-eight years ago on this date, I became a Christian. But I didn’t become a Christian the way I thought I would. I didn’t go down front in a church. I didn’t sign a card. It wasn’t a prayer at the end of a conversation. I hadn’t gone through a tragedy. I hadn’t buried someone, or said good-by to a girlfriend. As a matter of fact, I was at a great time in my life. I had graduated from high school, I was seventeen years old, and that summer I had entered school at Western Kentucky University. I was away from home, in my own apartment, had a job, and life was sweet. The last thing I was thinking about was God, or getting religious.
It was on a Friday night, in my apartment. I am not sure exactly what happened, but I know a Billy Graham Crusade was on my black and white TV that I had bought (used) for $20 with graduation money. And something he said, or something God said that night forever changed my life. It was like being hijacked; only the best kind of hijacking you could imagine. It was the night my heart would change forever, and I’ve never regretted a minute.
For 38 years I’ve attempted to walk with God as best I could, to stay connected to Him in this loving, redemptive relationship called salvation. I’ve seen Him work in my life. And though I don’t think I’ve ever heard Him speak audibly, I’ve had five or six times in my life that it couldn’t have been more real if He had. There have been ups and there have been downs, triumphs and tragedies, and through it all, these 38 years have been the joy of my life. God has been faithful at every turn. He has loved me well. And I in turn have attempted to love Him with my heart; not out of fear, but out of love.
For me, being a Christian isn’t about being right, arguing, trying to convert people, trying to prove God right or fight God’s battles.
For me, being a Christian starts with a relationship with Jesus Christ, a connection from His heart to mine that has been abiding all these years. For me it means a change of desire, a love for people, a sense of compassion for those who are hurting, a sense of justice for those who have been defiled.
As I’ve walked with Christ these 38 years, the walk has gotten sweeter and, yes, deeper. But I don’t mean by that more profound, complicated, and difficult. My faith in Jesus has not made me fitful, afraid, or worried about those I disagree with. It’s not made my world smaller, but larger. It hasn’t tempted me to bring judgment and try to determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s up and who’s down, and who’s right and who’s wrong.
For me, my faith has given me something worth living for. It’s given me a task, a calling in my life to help other people, to lift other people, to inspire them, to call them to come to the God who loves them more than they’ve ever imagined; a God who can redeem them and restore them, forgive any sin they’ve ever committed and shine light in even the darkest places.
I am a disappointed but satisfied Christian. By that I mean there have been promises made to me by other preachers, evangelists, and other well-meaning Christians that God has never kept. I’ve had to learn that everything disappoints ultimately, so that I can find my ultimate delight in the God who created all of those things. I’ve learned that beyond disappointment there is great delight, that if I find my delight in God, I can then enjoy the things He does and gives. But if I find my joy in the things He gives, I will miss the greatest delight of all – a loving, day-to-day, unshakable, unbreakable, irrational, remarkable, redemptive relationship with a God who saw me as I was, loved me as I was, but refused to leave me where I am.
Often people ask me, “How do I become a Christian?” It sounds too simple and uncomplicated. But all I did that night was bow my heart and say, “Jesus Christ, I give all of me I know to all of you I can understand. Take my life, let it be shaped by your love, and motivated by your agenda.” And He has not disappointed.