I have wrestled most of my life with the claims that Christ makes upon those who will be His followers. What is my responsibility to the poor? How should I use my money? How do I deal with my own self-centeredness? What does God expect of me if I claim to be a Christian? Can I even call Him “Lord” when I don’t always do what He says? And what right do I have to challenge others in ‘their’ Christian walk?
Yet, God uses broken and imperfect people to challenge and inspire others. He uses our mistakes and our successes to shine a light on the path, so that others might follow the right way. The transforming power of the gospel in the life of each person is a miracle in itself. What God has done in my life is a miracle too.
In the end, responding to the gospel and doing what it says is not meant for communities, or even churches; it is meant for individuals – one person at a time. It takes a transformed people to transform the world. But each of us must have our own “Damascus Road” experience, and our own “Thomas moment” in which our doubts fall away and we drop to our knees and acknowledge Jesus Christ as “our” Lord and “our” God (Acts 22:1-11; John 20:24-28). Only then does the journey of faith begin.
As a teenager, I can remember when I first realized (or falsely believed) that if I ever make it in life it will be because I make it happen myself. I purposed within myself that I would always have to stand up for myself and fight back to keep from being bullied and taken advantage of. I would not depend on others, and if I did, it would be as little as possible. “Chart your own course” became my mantra. My self-reliance grew through my teenage years and early twenties. I became very focused in this pursuit. My confidence only increased while in the United States Army where I served as an Airborne Ranger. I wasn’t content to be ‘regular’ Army; I had to belong to the elite troops. In a standing Army of 780,000, there were less than twelve hundred Rangers in two separate battalions. That placed me in a very small group of special forces in an otherwise very large army. I think my determination to be self-reliant became almost like a religion for me – at least it was as far as my dedication to it was concerned. I had a plan for my life, and I didn’t need anyone else’s help.
But then I began bumping into Christian people. While I thought they were very weird, and weak, I took note of them. Sometimes they said things that made me think. Plus they seemed to be all over the place. Every time I turned around I would have another encounter with one of them. While in the Army, the guy who bunked next to me was a Christian. He read his Bible every night. Over the course of many months he shared his faith with me. Most of the time I chose to debate or laugh at him instead. Only later did I come to realize the impact he had upon me. Then when I was being discharged from the Army, I had a three-day encounter with another Christian that rattled me to the core. He said things that I still remember to this day. These kinds of encounters happened on a regular basis with me over the years, and are too numerous to mention.
After I was discharged from the Army I continued on my course of self-reliance and independence. This led to me getting involved with the wrong crowd of people doing the wrong kind of things. I was now on a downward spiral. What had began as a way of self-reliance had now flowered into a lifestyle of self-ruin.
It was an ordinary day, in the midst of this downward spiral, when I picked up a book entitled “What Next?” by Kenneth Schmidt, and thumbed my way through it. It was a Christian book about the Second Coming of Jesus to the earth - something I had never heard of. Reading a book on theology on a Saturday night was, for me, (a hard party animal), a bit of a miracle. To this day I can’t fully explain why I started reading it. But I found that I could not put it down, and six hours later, at two in the morning, I had finished it and sat trembling on my bed. What I had read had shaken me deeply. Somehow that night, God had gotten my attention, and the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ came crashing (intruding) into my life. My self-important, self-reliant, worldview had been assaulted and challenged.
I did not become a Christian that night. After so many years of self-reliance and skepticism, I would need more time and convincing evidence to put my faith in anything as fantastic as this resurrection and Second Coming story. My years of reading had helped me build a fortress of rationalization against anything supernatural or church related. But, I began to be honest with myself, and despite my understanding of the world around me, a gnawing uneasiness lingered. I understood the basics of science, the natural world, the theory of evolution, and the big bang. But there was still a hole in my worldview that I had conveniently ignored.
Why am I here? Where did I come from? Am I an accident of the cosmos, or was I designed and created by an intelligent being? How do we explain the beauty, order, and complexity of the world around us? Where do our instinctual notions of good and evil come from? What happens to us when we die? These are the kinds of questions that make even atheists and agnostics uncomfortable, because there seems to be no rational answer for them. That little book I read seemed to have the answers. The author made a powerful and intellectual argument that the claims of Christianity were true – that Christ was actually a historical person who lived, died, and yes, even rose from the dead; that God was active in creation; and that it is possible to know Him.
In this worldview, everything fit.
The next day, in a panic, I went to a Christian bookstore and bought half a dozen books on Christianity, covering a variety of topics. I even bought a Bible, a paraphrase version, to help me understand the words of Christ. I eagerly read everything I could get my hands on. Keep in mind, at this point I am still not a Christian, but everything I am reading I am seeing for the first time and it is turning my world upside down! Over the next few months I literally read about thirty books on Christianity. For the first time in my life, I was actually searching for truth instead of making up my own. With every book I read, and every Christian I encountered, new questions were being answered and pieces were falling into place. I began to see the utter beauty and total credibility of God’s truth.
Eventually I summoned the courage to attend church one Sunday. I was nervous and afraid. This was a world that I was unfamiliar with. I didn’t come back for a couple of months. When I did, I had the same experience. But I couldn’t ignore the tug in my heart. This was a pattern that continued for two full years. I was caught between two worlds and utterly miserable. Then, one Sunday night, after I got home from a church service, I sat down on the edge of my bed, and I knew: it was true.
At that moment I understood that I had a choice to make. I could accept this truth and commit my life to following Jesus Christ – or I could turn my back on God, walk away from something I knew to be true, and spend the rest of my life living a lie. There was no partial step I could take. It had to be all-or-nothing, one way or the other. Either Jesus Christ would be the most important truth in my life, governing all that I would ever do, or I would go it alone, doing everything my own way.
It was then that I knelt down and prayed the best way I knew how. I had worked my way through my “doubting Thomas” questions and had my own “Damascus Road” experience. I asked God to forgive me for my stubbornness, pride, sin, and much wickedness. I committed my life to Him that day without reservation, and committed myself to a lifetime of service. There were no angels singing, no voices from heaven, but I knew my life had changed dramatically, and forever. The gospel, the good news, had entered my life with power, and nothing as been the same since. The emptiness was filled.
At that point, my life finally began to make sense.