It’s been years since I took a high degree of personal responsibility in exercising my faith publicly.
I used to work in a small church as an assistant pastor, worship leader, Sunday school teacher, prayer leader, pew cleaner, grass mower, in-home visitor, transportation provider … you name a service small churches provide and I’ve probably done it. I’ve been through several neighborhoods in southeast TN door-to-door. I’ve prepared sermons, studied, prayed, fallen flat on my face in front of hundreds of folks and had the blessing of being present when the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob spoke through me.
Where I have at times wanted to prove myself in the corporate world I’ve not had that urge spiritually in decades; I’m comfortable with my experience, skills and knowledge of God and in my relationship with Him. He’s the creator of the universe, my redeemer, the one and only true God, the only self-extant entity to ever exist in this plane or any other while I am merely His creation, in His image, his clay to mold, break, reshape and break again according to His purpose and not mine. His is the authority to determine my life. I’m His slave, bought with a price more precious than anything else that’s ever existed. I’m His adopted son, co-heir with Jesus to the glories He is and has created. I’m weak but thankfully it is in my weakness that His power is perfected and shown to be the source upon which I lean. The failings are mine, the glory is His. That doesn’t make me a victim, it makes me spiritually well-informed. He offers me things I do not deserve in my own right but by the blood sacrifice of His Son I am granted the authority to things I could never pretend to otherwise.
With that due diligence as precursor, I’ve started to re-engage again. We’ve been attending services at a local body of believers, Silverdale Baptist, for some years now and joined a few years ago. We’ve tried going to some classes but my frustration with many things more social than spiritual continued to pour out of my heart. Over time I’ve experienced something of God’s healing because I first took a week of vacation to teach VBS a couple of years ago. I knew I wasn’t perfectly in God’s will but I’m trained for this and, more importantly, I’m designed for this. That week was a blessing. I decided at the end of that week that I was going to go ahead and take off the week for the next VBS as soon as the dates were selected. I was more involved in that session. I was a little off-put by the idea of teaching 5th grade boys from the Y all week because I didn’t know what level of Bible knowledge to expect; it’s not like they were necessarily church kids from our church whom I would expect to have some grounding in the Bible and theology in 5th grade. Surprisingly, God blessed me. Those guys were not only fun and challenging but they were engaged. They were loving and open and several of them began a relationship with God that will last them through eternity.
I know that the next step for me is to get into the ministry in some fashion. I spent 6 years unsaved out of my existence. God introduced Himself into my life eternally on July 8th, 1974. I remember the Sunday morning. I don’t remember what the pastor said because (to paraphrase Paul) it was foolishness anyway. It was the words the Holy Spirit was speaking to me. I was proud. I was pretty confidant even at six. I knew I was a smart guy and I thought, “Hey, I can just go home and talk to God on my own. No need to do this here.” Then God said something to the effect of “Hey, if it’s no big deal why DON’T you just come on up here and let’s talk.” I thought, “Yeah, everyone’s gonna be sappy and weepy-happy and that’s not me” to which God replied something along the lines of “Now how does what anyone else does affect you and Me again?” At that point I remember feeling like that was just an argument I didn’t want to fight any more (I’m sure that’ll be a surprise to my wife) so I slipped out past my grandparents and went to the altar and met God eternally right then.
Now, 36 years later, I find that with all my flaws I’m far less excited about getting into a group. I still think that I’m smart. I’ve had more training and experience but I also know that it isn’t knowledge that matters; that’s gnosticism (and a heresy of the first century church). I know rather that it’s sometimes easy for others to be awed by someone putting together Scripture. My relationship with God is easy and He blessed me in designing me to talk with people so I’m seldom daunted and that confidence, especially in group settings, tends to come across. This may shock folks who’ve ever talked with me about God or my faith but I try to hold my tongue in church. I will sit and stare at the floor, the walls, the ceiling, my Bible or anything else handy but I don’t remember a time when I ever met with anyone who wanted to talk about God and the Bible in any way other than disparagingly that I was not compelled to speak the truth of God’s word as best I understand it. If you understand the statement, “I wanted to talk but I was just so nervous saying something in front of everyone there” then you know the exact opposite of how I feel everytime I walk into church, work, the playground, the ballfield or wherever and people sincerely want to talk about God. My chest almost bursts to talk about God.
The other night in our small group, the lesson on tithing starts with Job. Job! One of my favorite books of the Bible. Job. God teases Satan with Job. God put Job out there on a pedestal for Satan and teased him into attacking Job. “Have you seen my servant Job? There is no one like him on earth! He’s blameless, upright, fears Me and turns away from evil.” (Job 1:8) Now THAT is a different cat from the one most of us think of as God. That God is not only a loving Father, He’s an egocentric entity egging on a lesser being. God practically goads Satan into attacking Job. I know this story. I LOVE this story. It presents God as so non-westernized in any number of ways and across several chapters. The God in Job ain’t cuddle and cute. He’s weird and almost capricious to American churchianity. He “wasted” “blew away” (PUN INTENDED) and otherwise killed 10 people just to prove a point. (Job 1:19)
That God is different! Then again, He even makes that point Himself over in chapter 38 when He points out to Job that He doesn’t ask humans, even Job, for their counsel on doing anything.
To get back to my point, I sat in that class of 12 people until I was literally shaking with a desire to talk. I wanted to open my mouth and praise God but not by saying, “Praise God” (not that He doesn’t deserve that) but by synthesizing the story in chapter 1 with other chapters and making points about God in our current world. I’m constantly wondering about the hutu and tutsi or the Rwandans or the Sudanese in Darfur. How is it that God loves our 10 year old American children but He hates those kids so much that he lets warlords put AK-47’s in their little hands and use them as child shields and warriors to kill others? How is it that He loves American women but he hates the women over there so much that he allows them to be scarred sexually, be used sexually until they contract AIDs or be forced to accept that their men and their male children are brutalized through gang or tribal warfare while the kids that escape that have to live in biohazards caused by petroleum spills that mar areas with heavy crude that cut life expectancies by decades?
The same God that can allow those things all in one large area like northeastern, central and southwestern Africa is the same God that can take a man who fears and loves Him and turn that man over to Satan for Satan’s machinations to try and break that man from his pursuit of holiness. Now THAT is a different God.
If you think that I probably calmed myself and walked out of the classroom stoically quiet then you just cannot understand the force that impels me heedless for my dignity. I thank God that He designed me to be an idiot for Him. I’m probably most sorry of all the things in my life that I haven’t been a bigger idiot for Him than I have. I am a poor example of a bondservant but God is not only gracious but merciful.