Tuesday, May 5, 2015
"Saved" on the #NarrowRoad
For the past few months I have written here most every Tuesday about the #NarrowRoad we seek to walk with Jesus. Each of us have our own stories to tell and our own history on the path. In some circles these are called our testimonies. My preferred description is to call it my spiritual journey. Whatever you want to call it, here is mine. Please forgive my overuse of the word "I" in this post. But for once, this kind of is all about me...
I grew up in Quaker (until I was 4) United Methodist churches. As a small child I attended Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and all of the worship services and church picnics you can imagine. By the age of 10 I had memorized my share of bible verses. I knew the hymns. I could recite the Apostle's Creed. And to be honest, I was under the impression (because church taught me) that being able to do all of those things made me a Christian. I had yet to learn the truth that going to church doesn't make you a Christ-follower anymore than sitting in a garage makes you a car...
When I was about 10 my parents quit going to church because of a split in a church they loved. They never went back. For a few years I stayed home on Sunday mornings- and I enjoyed it. I didn't miss church at all. When I was in 8th grade, my best friend Steve Semmler convinced me to go to youth group with him. I wish I could tell you I went because deep in my soul I longed to know Jesus, but the fact is I went because of a girl. New Garden Friends Meeting was a very important stop on my faith journey, but we didn't use language like "saved" or "born again." In fact, that language both scared and confused us. I remember being at a gathering of youth groups and going around a circle introducing ourselves. The other youth were saying their names and the exact date that they had been "saved." We said our names and that we liked to play basketball. I didn't have a salvation story. I was learning about Jesus, but I did not yet know him.
My growth continued when I became involved in a Young Life Campaigner Group. There I studied scripture and shared experiences with a group of guys who came from a different background than I did, and who understood more about giving their lives to Christ. Living in the way God intended became very important to me, and I was identified more and more as a Christian, by myself and by others. Volunteering at Quaker Lake Camp and talking with kids and counselors about Jesus continued my journey. By the time I began working at the camp at age 18, I was committed to following the teachings of Christ. I had seen old friends whose lives had taken a different path from my own and who were now living dark, painful lives. I felt like I had been saved by Jesus. I would feel that way many times over the coming years. But I still had no definitive date, no concrete answer to the "When were you saved?" question.
I began working for churches as a youth leader when I was 18. For the next 28 years I led teenagers in their search for Jesus, always reminding them that while "once saved, always saved" may be a theological truth, the fact is that we are in constant need of saving- and Jesus will never let us down. Some experience salvation in a magical moment, with trumpets and lights flashing; many of us are saved because we allow Jesus to slowly, deeply consume our hearts. The problem with the latter is that it doesn't give us an exciting story to tell; it doesn't give us a date to recite. But it still gives me a Savior, and Jesus has played that role in my life over and over again in my 55 years of life.
Over the years I have often feared being one of those people I have seen so many times in church or at youth camps who find their "salvation" in an emotional response to a sermon or a tragedy. I have witnessed as far too many people have walked down the aisle at church to the strains of Just As I Am; they have knelt at the altar just as they are; and they head back to their seats just as they were. I have often doubted the sincerity of those who could name the date and time of their salvation, because I have wondered if was simply emotion. But in April of 2007, in the midst of the darkest days of my life, in the midst of repenting of the most public sin of my life, I found myself in tears and on my knees before God asking to be saved one more time. And in that moment, I was filled with the Holy Spirit in a new and amazing way. And I have not been the same since. I was and am still far from perfect. But I was saved in a whole new way.
I realize this is not a normal testimony, but I have not lived a normal life. I have been a Christian since a very early age. I have been a committed Christ-follower since I was a teenager. As an adult I led many students into relationships with Jesus, and gave my life to him in service. But if you want to know when I was saved- REALLY saved by the overwhelming love and grace of Jesus Christ- I'd have to say Easter Sunday, 2007- in jail. Walking with Christ, learning to trust him, sharing life with him- all of these things are part of the pilgrimage. And the trip down the #NarrowRoad never ends. Brennan Manning once said that "The worst thing is not crying out in the darkness; the worst thing is having no one in the darkness to cry out to..." Knowing that Jesus is there in the darkness- not hoping, not thinking, not wishing, but KNOWING- that's my salvation story. Thanks for listening.
Because of Jesus,