I was raised in a Christian family, and some of my earliest memories are of churches I attended with my family. In these churches I heard the Gospel … or at least a form of it. The pitch I remember went something like this: We are all sinners in need of a Savior. If you don’t receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you will end up in hell.
And my Sunday School teachers seemed to do a very good job painting a picture of how horrible hell would be. I definitely didn’t want to go there. I was not that kid who questions everything he was told. I wanted to get it right. And I experienced a lot of stress worried about how to do this.
But the stress was unnecessary. One day, when I was 8, God met me on His own terms.
I had been playing with my younger sister, Sandy, in the back yard of our home on Buckeye Avenue in Sylmar, California. For a reason I don’t recall, I ended up smacking her a good one, and she raised quite a hue and cry about it. I knew Mom would be out the door in moments and I would be in big trouble. So, I did what I often did when confronted with such circumstances … I ran and hid under a favorite bush on the side of our house.
I was distracted, listening for the wrath of Mom, when I suddenly realized I was hearing something else. I can’t quite describe it other than to say it was an “inner voice” of conviction. If I put words to it, it would have said something like this:
“This thing you’re struggling with, it’s a sin problem. And it’s only going to get worse unless we do something about it now.”
I remember being struck to my core by this thought. I don’t know how, but I knew it was God speaking. (In hindsight, this reminds me of the scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce where the angel seeks to rid a man of the snarling little lizard on his shoulder.)
“What can we do about it?” I asked fearfully. Suddenly, the reality of my own sin had become more terrifying than all of those Sunday School depictions of hellfire and brimstone.
“Give it to Me,” came the response. “I’ve already paid the price, and I alone can change you.”
So I did. I prayed and asked God to cleanse me of my sin. And I then experienced what I can only describe as “God’s smile,” the utter confidence that He and I were good, on the same page.
I came flying up out from behind that bush about the same time my mom came storming out into the back yard, calling my name. “Mom, I’m here! You’ll never guess what just happened!” I shouted. And then before she could start I blurted out the whole story about meeting God behind that bush.
I have to give my mom a lot of credit here. She should have been very suspicious of my motives. But she believed me, hugged me, forgave me, all while my sniffling sister watched from the sliding glass door.
My mom was like that, the one person who always believed in me and encouraged me to take the next step of faith. I’m really looking forward to seeing her again someday!
The Chicken and the Egg
I started out this blog post thinking I was going to talk about the effect of being in a Christian family on me coming to faith. When you read my story, there definitely seems to be a link. But oftentimes I know it’s not the case. Kids raised in Christian families may not end up Christians, and kids raised in nonChristian families may become that family’s biggest advocate for Jesus. (That was the case with my dad; he led most of his sisters to Christ after coming to faith in college. Then he led his own father to Christ on his deathbed!)
My mom and dad weren’t perfect and they didn’t model a perfect Christian family. They were frequently in conflict, and I grew up afraid and bitterly sick of the fighting. Had their marriage existed in today’s easy-divorce culture, I sometimes wonder whether it would have survived.
But, when I think about my own journey to faith, while being raised in a Christian family is something I am deeply grateful for, somehow I am convinced God would have reached me regardless. It just seems “meant to be.” Part of this conviction comes from Romans 8:29, “For those whom He foreknew He predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son ….”
My parents didn’t really model perfect Christianity, and my Sunday School teachers badly mangled the essence of the Gospel message, which means literally “Good news!” Living our lives in accordance with God’s purposes brings meaning, and joy, and redemptive love, and a bright future full of hope. Somehow God reached me anyway, and began a slow process of transformation for which I will be forever grateful.
Tomorrow I want to talk a little bit about just how slow that transformation process has been!