Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Smashing of the Idols

What follows is a spiritual autobiography. In July 2000, I wrote a letter to a life long friend detailing how I had come to embrace the Evangelical Christian faith. Later I published an edited version of that letter on a now defunct internet site. Over the years this has gone through several edits and updates for publication.

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" "In a age of relativism, orthodoxy is the only possible rebellion left."

~ Peter Kreeft

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t go to church. At that time my parents seldom went, but sent us kids regularly. I had a childhood friend that I invited to church also. Though we learned many things at this church of our youth, there was also, in retrospect, some things that were missed.

I remember one time when we were about 11 years old, we were at a church camp, and my friend and I talked about looking for the Garden of Eden. Indeed we were looking for something back then. Little did we realize what we were to eventually find. Thus it was at that time in our looking, we were baptized; having been taught that in doing so, one became a Christian; the implication was we were earning our way to God’s favor by our own keeping and doing. I still remember the church camp sermon on the steps to heaven; all things we had to do. I don’t remember the word “grace” being used.

In high school my friend began to drift away and started walking on the wilder side of life. At that time my own walk was something of the respectable hypocrite. For some reason I didn't stop going to church. I think in some sense I was seeking something I had yet to find. I could never be an atheist. Growing up on the farm so close to nature made it almost impossible not to believe in something much greater.

I did become a deist of sorts, someone who believes in God, but not sure He is relevant to anything in this world. And I was certainly not at all sure how Jesus fit into the whole thing, if He did at all. My life became one of being "good" enough not to get into bad trouble, but being "bad" enough to get along with the world.

During my high school senior year, there was a New Year Eve's service at the church. A guest speaker was leading the service. He had us write on a piece of paper any concerns, burdens, questions, or etc. we wanted God to take care of in the year to come. He then collected the papers, and putting them into a collection plate, burned them up; a symbolic act of giving those things to God. On my paper I had written, "Are you really there?" Little did I know how, in the next few years, that question was to be answered.

That fall I was off to Michigan State University. I was a relatively larger fish in a real small pond back home. At MSU I was barely at the plankton level. I also quickly realized that for all the amount of intellect at the University, there were still some areas where the Professors, with all their doctoral degrees, learning, and knowledge, really didn't know anymore then the rest of us. Whatever claims they might make, they were only guessing about the meaning and purpose of life, and one guess was as good or bad as another.

In one of my Freshman classes, in a test essay question dealing with Thomas Paine’s virulent attack on the virgin birth of Christ, I found myself defending the virgin birth. After all, Thomas Paine didn’t know anymore about it then anyone else, so why should I believe him? It was in that context I was seeking my own meaning and purpose. I was carving out and sculpting my own idols; those things I thought would give me purpose, meaning, and comfort in life. I believed God existed, but believed He was far away and didn’t have much time or inclination to worry about my life.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore year, my brother got married to his first wife. Even though I had known of and expected my brother's wedding for some months before, the actual event was something of a shock to me. It was hard for me to handle that we had "grown up", and were taking on adult responsibilities. Even back in high school I had felt at times an acute loneliness and emptiness; a loneliness and emptiness that I thought could be filled by the "good life"; finding a special someone to share life with, a good paying job, and a nice house in a nice community. It was in those growing materialistic expectations that I was looking for ultimate purpose and meaning in my life. I realize in looking back, that those things, as legitimate as they can be, were at that time in my life, becoming my idols.

In my sophomore year, the Lord started drawing His net around me. God is a jealous God. He will not put up with us having any other gods in His place. That fall I attended a concert on campus put on by a Christian musical group. There was a gospel presentation. As the salvation prayer was spoken, I remember saying to myself, “That’s something you should do.” I signed a card that had been provided, and promptly forgot about the whole thing.

That winter and spring I thought perhaps I was beginning to find what I was looking for in regard to some of those things that were my idols. But it was a delusion; my feelings and imagination making in my mind something that was not really there. In the spring of that sophomore year, He proceeded to providentially smash those idols. Those idols lay smashed upon the ground, leaving me bewildered and at a loss.

Shortly after these events, I was invited to a meeting of a campus ministry group. I went... I was supposed to get a term paper done, but I couldn't concentrate on it, so I went to the meeting.

After the meeting I talked to the speaker. He went through a Gospel presentation. I knew enough of the Bible to recognize the truth of what he said. I knew I fell far short of living up to what I knew was right. I needed grace, mercy, and the forgiveness of sins. Though I did not fully understand it at the time, I needed to turn from myself and embrace what Christ had done for me in His death, burial, and resurrection. It was then I confessed to the Lord I was the fool, and in so doing acknowledged that He, Jesus Christ, was Lord and God. Somewhat to my surprise, I found I believed. I was surprised by faith...

The skeptic may say, "He got religion on the rebound from a broken heart.” That an understandable response, but it is a rather superficial kind of analysis that misses deeper root issues. The issue was not my seeking solace for a broken heart; though that pain was real enough. The real issue was not “me” centered, but God centered. What was to be the object of my hope and faith for meaning and purpose in life? The object of a person’s hope and faith is what they will worship. My heart was broken because I sought in my idols that which God alone can give. God smashed my idols so I would seek Him, and in Him alone find all I really and truly needed or wanted. Nor does that kind of superficial analysis explain why, after all these years, I keep on believing.

From that point, old things started passing away, and new things came in their place. I went home at the end of that school year a different person then what I had been when that school year had started. Someone gave me a copy of the New Testament in Today's English. That summer I read through it, and the Word of God was alive like it had never been before... I found I wanted to be with God’s people...

There is much more I could probably say about the last 40 plus years since that time. I did marry a really nice Christian lady, was able to have a decent job, and we have a nice home in a nice suburban community. Shortly after we were married, I was baptized in an Evangelical Baptist church. Over the years we have attended and been involved in several local churches. In those churches we have seen both the good and some of the bad of church life, but our confidence is not in any specific church or group of churches, rather it is in Him who is head over all the church.

At one point I thought to enter the ministry, but the Lord providentially led me otherwise. I did take several years of seminary classes and learned enough Greek and Hebrew to be dangerous. More important, I learned more about God Himself and who I am in relation to Him. I learned more fully about His sovereign grace and mercy.

I am a saved sinner. I am a sinner still being saved. One day I will be fully saved. Jesus Christ is my all in all, my only hope in life and in death. Anything I have is a gift of His grace and mercy alone; certainly not at all deserved or earned by anything I could do. All I can do is respond to His love by loving and seeking to serve Him.

For the child of God, nothing is wasted in His sovereign economy. It is from the ashes, broken wreckage, and debris of our lives that He perfects His image in us.

Whatever God's providence brings our way, His promises are true and He remains faithful. The light afflictions of this poor world are nothing in light of the weight of the eternal glory that is waiting for those who love Him.

So it is that I affirm and confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, and that He is my LORD and my Savior.

I believe....

..in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Piliate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from where He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit;

the holy universal Church; the communion of the saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

AMEN!

(~ The Apostles' Creed ~)

Solo Deo gloria!

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