Last week I faced a middle-aged married couple seeking God.
The husband, clean but grizzled with gray wiry crewcut standing straight up as if gelled, proudly stated that he often went to a church down the street whose name he could not remember, but that he had lived a bad life and wanted Jesus to receive him but wasn’t sure if He would… he still sinned sometimes. He wanted his wife to go to church with him, but she was afraid. She stood there, scruffy clothes, straggly gray hair shoulder length, shamefacedly looking down at her toes.
I took their hands, smiled, and said… “That’s GREAT!” I said that God loves them so much, He is delighted that they sought Him, and He was totally willing to receive them. What seemed to be in the way?
Grace was moving powerfully in the moment, and though we were surrounded by crowds of people, it seemed like we just calmly sat all by ourselves in a quiet park.
They both answered with their most direct responses. The man said, “I’ve done so many wrong things, and I still struggle so… I’m just not what a Christian should be.” His wife answered in turn, “I’ve gone to lots of churches, and been at lots of Bible studies, and it’s just all too complicated. I don’t know enough. I don’t understand the Bible. And it’s all so hard, so much. I’m not that smart… I can’t even understand all it takes to be a Christian… and even if I understood it all, I know for SURE I can’t DO it!”
My heart did a strange thing in the same moment. It broke for the pain these people were feeling, and it soared with the realization of what we were about to do.
I thanked them so much for speaking with me this day… for trusting me with their hearts and spirits in this way. I said I could readily understand and agree with their concerns. Sometimes it is very hard to believe that God, as good as He is, as love as He is, is really big enough to forgive and cleanse us from all the wrong and stupid things we’ve not only done in the past, but that we STILL do, when we should know better. And that I, too, have walked into many churches and listened to sermons that made me feel like I needed a college degree to “get it”. Sometimes it is easy to feel out of place in a Bible Study or Sunday School Class where everybody seems “on the same music” except us.
(I remember a 45 minute Bible Study filled with mature Christian churchmen, where 20 minutes was spent in discussion of the Jewish belief that the soul hovered above a corpse for 3 days, thus explaining Jesus’ delay in returning to Lazarus when He was notified of His friend’s illness. Seriously! That discussion seemed overwhelmingly important to the teacher and classmen on that morning… allowing everyone to display their attainments at having “studied to show themselves approved” as Biblical scholars!)
So here we were, the three of us, as I paused a moment to reflect and pray within myself.
Then I said, “Sometimes, the Christian life can seem very demanding, or very complicated and confusing. But, let’s bring it to some simple basics for a moment. You are parents, aren’t you?”
They brightened, starting to speak of their three grown children…
“Great!” I said, “Now, for just a moment, I want you to do me a favor and cast your mind back to when you first held your baby… Take a moment, think back, imagine him in your arms, and feel what your heart felt for that child. Do you remember it? The tenderness? The love? The desire to care for him? To protect him? To see him grow up strong, healthy, and good? Do you remember your heart that day?”
Both of them, thinking back as I’d asked, smiled gentle smiles and nodded, lost in the memory for a moment, then looking up at each other and smiling with love.
“Well here is the most important thing for you EVER to know about God… THAT is His heart towards YOU! In fact, what you felt was only the teeniest tiniest grain of HIS very heart towards your son. You didn’t manufacture that love, you can only reflect it from Him. And He feels exactly that way about you!
“Being Christian is not a matter of not having done wrong, stupid or sinful things… behaving well enough for God to receive us. Being Christian isn’t a matter of studying enough theology, memorizing enough of the Bible, or being smart enough for God to receive us.
“Being Christian is a matter of adoption into God’s family. It is a matter of relationship. It is knowing that God loves us, has made the way for us to be united with Him, and receiving and accepting HIM. It is to accept and acknowledge God as our Father, Jesus as His Only Begotten Son who saves us by His own loving sacrifice of His sinless self in our place, and receiving His Spirit into ourselves to provide life, light, and love. The issue isn’t HIM receiving US, with all our flaws and imperfections. It’s US receiving HIM with all that He offers and provides, knowing that we cannot provide those things for ourselves.
“Are you willing? Are you BOTH willing… to let Him adopt you fully as His children? To accept and receive Him as Father, King, Savior, Rescuer? Provider of life, light, breaths, and heartbeats?”
They said yes, they both wanted this very much.
I said then we would ask Him for this in a moment, and their agreement would seal their covenant with Him. All it took to do this, was to know… absolutely… that it was available to them, and agree to it. Did they believe, absolutely, and KNOW… that God truly loves them, that Jesus is God, Son of God, truly and actually came from heaven, was born as a fully human baby, lived a sinless life, was condemned, tortured, executed, crucified, died (truly died), was resurrected three days later, and ascended to heaven, again seated at the right hand of God the Father? That He thereby took their sins from them, paid the price for them, and opened the way for their adoption as joint heirs with Him?
They agreed throughout, as this was said slowly and carefully.
Did they agree and acknowledge that they had, indeed, done wrong things in their lives… sinned… as have I… and had need of Jesus redemption and cleansing for making reunion with God a possibility?
Yes, they did.
So, together, we prayed and affirmed all of this, sealing it in our souls together.
Afterwards, we talked a bit more, and I pointed out that being Christian was our relationship with God in Christ, “inside stuff” (as one friend of mine puts it), not “outside stuff” like behaviors, memorization, dressing up, and church forms. BUT!!! Once adopted as the Father’s children, He raises us… trains us… teaches us… and as we walk that, all that “outside stuff” WILL change! It’s not that we “have to do all that religious stuff to be pleasing to God”. It’s that the more time we spend with Him, the closer we walk with Him, the more our “outside stuff” conforms to Christ Himself, and the more “Christian” we look.
But just like any child grows up a bit at a time, you don’t expect an elementary school son to draft a presentation on quantum physics. We learn from basics to more complex stuff. There was nothing necessarily “wrong” with the Churches or Bible Studies they had visited, but perhaps they needed to find something more geared to younger, newer, Believers… and mature their way along to more complex studies.
We parted in great joy as God affirmed in their hearts His total enfolding of their lives. I encouraged them with all my heart to find other Believers who could walk with them and help them along. A Church home that would receive and help them develop at their own pace. There was no question that a local Church family would provide the support this couple needed, and without one they would struggle much more than they had thus far.
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So many times, Gentle Brethren… so many times I’ve heard this same refrain… “I don’t KNOW enough yet to accept Christ! I’ve gone to church after church and each of them say the others are wrong! I don’t want to get this wrong! How do I know which one is right? I open the Bible and it’s so complicated I don’t understand it! I don’t know what to do!”
Do I despise theology? NO! I’ve spent much of a lifetime acquiring a fair-to-middling understanding of it! Do I despise upright living, or seeking to walk in the footsteps of Christ? Absolutely not! My heart yearns to walk pleasing to Him at each and every moment. Behavior, self-discipline, constraint… are all important components of the Christian life.
But beneath all of this… fundamental to all of this… is RELATIONSHIP! To know, first and foremost, that I am the Lord’s beloved and adopted child, creation of His hands, being raised… loved… trained… taught… with infinite patience and mercy to live out my life and Kingdom role as vessel for Him and His love.
And here is a place where it is all too easy for a Seeker, one who desires salvation and its assurance, to experience Churches and Public Christians as “obstruction” to Him, rather than “vehicle”.
This realization is leading me to “study down” in these days. I am coming to see, and will begin to write here, some of these “simple fundamentals” of Christian life as I’ve come to walk it… I find this often helps others, especially those feeling “overwhelmed by public Christianity”. No one, ever, should feel they are “not smart enough” to grasp the Gospel! That… is just NOT… OK. Ever.
Pray for me, Gentle Reader. Very much a work in progress! Blessings and grace to thee – Little Monk