I remember that evening. I was 12 years old. It was a hot night in Southern Oregon with no air conditioning, and I had just gotten home from the Sunday evening service at church. The pastor had just shown a movie called “A Thief In the Night”, which was an end times video. At the end of the service the Pastor Mark asked the congregation to look at our lives and discern if we had “accepted the gift”. And he described how silly it would be to have a whole bunch of presents under the tree, and to never claim them, to never open them, but to leave them sitting there. He went on to say that a lot of times that is what we do with Jesus. We hear his salvation is a good gift. And we are appreciative of all that God has done for us. But we never claim God’s gift for ourselves. We never claim his gift of new life for ourselves. And he went on to share that it is not enough to have religious activities, or think that Jesus’ teachings are good ideas, but that we need to surrender our lives to Christ and accept his good gift of new life.
So I went home and sat on my bed and pondered what had been said. I thought I had accepted Christ, but I could not remember a specific moment when I had done so. I had been infatuated with Jesus for as long as I can remember, and in the last year or so had been orienting my life as a middle school teen to follow him. And often the decision to follow Jesus had led to people not including me in things, or laughing when I wore my Christian t-shirts.
Well, I wrestled with God about where I was in my relationship with him, and came to the conclusion that it could not hurt to commit my life to Christ whether or not I had done it in the past or not. And I remember telling myself that if I made this decision, there would be no turning back. This was a life decision. So I had a little talk with God that night, and from that point on my life has been different. And there have been many things I have doubted since then, but I have also trusted that God loves me and wont abandon me or give up on me.
Malcolm Gladwell, who writes a lot of books about small things that have a big influence, wrote a book called Tipping Points. And the point of this book is that there are moments in time and markers that we cross that once we cross them everything is qualitatively different. He talks about everything from Sesame Street to cigarette smoking addiction to make his point. At one point things are one way, and then in a moment they are totally different.
Our lives have crossroads, or tipping points, before which everything is one way, and after which everything is different. To continue the metaphor of story, our lives have certain climactic points to which everything before seems to flow toward and everything else seems to flow out of.
One of my favorite authors is Douglas Coupland. And my favorite book of his is “Life After God”, which has a double meaning in the title. Because it talks about how my Generation is the first generation in North America where so many have chosen to raise their children with very little sense of God and the spiritual, and yet at the same time we have an innate sense deep within us that stirs us to move on a quest to discover God. Coupland’s protagonist comes to the crisis point at the end of his book when he says this.
Life was charmed but without politics or religion. it was the life of children of the children of the pioneers--life after God--a life of earthly salvation on the edge of heaven. Perhaps this is the finest thing to which we may aspire, the life of peace, the blurring between dream life and real life--and yet I find myself speaking these words with a sense of doubt. I think there was a trade-off somewhere along the line.
I think the price we paid for our golden life was an inability to fully believe in love; instead we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God.
But then I must remind myself we are living creatures--we have religious impulses--we must --and yet into what cracks do these impulses flow in a world without religion? It is something I think about every day. Sometimes I think it is the only thing I should be thinking about.
Some facts about me: I think I am a broken person. I seriously question the road my life has taken and I endlessly rehash the compromises I have made in my life. I have an unsecure and vaguely crappy job with an amoral corporation so that I don't have to worry about money. I put up with halfway relationships so as not to have to worry about loneliness. I have lost the ability to recapture the purer feelings of my younger years in exchange for a streamlined narrow-mindedness that I assumed would propel me to "the top." What a joke.
Compromise is said to be the way of the world and yet I find myself feeling sick trying to accept what it has done to me :the little yellow pills, the lost sleep. But I don't think this is anything new in the world.
This is not to say my life is bad. I know it isn't...but my life is not what I expected it might have been when I was younger. Maybe you yourself deal with this issue better than me. Maybe you have been lucky enough to never have inner voices question you about your own path--or maybe you answered the questioning and came out on the other side. I don't feel sorry for myself in any way. I am merely coming to grips with what I know the world is truly like.
Sometimes I want to go to sleep and merge with the foggy world of dreams and not return to this, our real world. Sometimes I look back on my life and am surprised at the lack of kind things I have done. Sometimes I just feel that there must be another road that can be walked--away from this became--either against my will or by default.
Now--here is my secret:
I tell it to you with the openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God--that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.
Saul seems to have one of these moments as he is on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. He is with his posse seeking out Jewish Christians to drag back to Jerusalem in chains to be jailed or executed. Some translations say Paul was “breathing fire” against the believers. But then Paul has a fork in the road, tipping point kind of moment. While he is traveling he is encountered by a force that throws him to the ground, blinds him with a bright light, and speaks to him with a powerful voice. It is Jesus, and he tells Paul to change his ways, and to stop fighting what God is doing through his followers and join them.
Could Paul have run away? Of course he could! He could have chosen not to obey what God led him to do! And his life may have even been easier, more glamorous and more successful. But he didn’t. And all the things that had happened before in his life brought him to this one moment. A moment that he least expected. A moment where everything after would be defined by.
Have you had those moments? I hope you have. There are sometimes I look out on our congregation and wonder if there are some of us who have done the church thing all their lives, but never surrendered their lives to Christ, never had that moment (whether you have noticed the exact time of it or not) before which you were one person, and after which your life was qualitatively different. And when I think about that I worry that many of you have not had the joy of what it means to trust Jesus with your everything, and the peace and hope that brings to your days here on earth. And I worry that as the parable goes, when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, he will say “Depart from me, I never knew you”.
And the truth is, for many of us, there is more than one moment in our lives that is like that. More than one time in our life where God somehow came into our lives, and changed the direction we were headed.
A few weeks ago, we discussed this as a small group in our CHOW Bible Study, and we heard about lots of moments like this. Mundane moments like really listening to a praise song that we were singing in worship and having the song touch one of our lives. Unforgettable moments like meeting the love of our lives. Humbling moments when we realized how lonely and sad we were. Scary moments in running from Jesus that made us run back to Jesus as fast as possible and commit our lives to him. Being a part of a community where we were taught follow Jesus with our lives. Aha moments where we suddenly all of the muddled things that we thought and believed came together. And times where we came into this congregation and felt surrounded by love and support at a time when we really needed it.
What are those moments in your life? When is the time you went from fighting God to having faith in Jesus? When is the time when you saw God make a way where there was no way in your life? When is the time when you felt God the closest to you in your life? What are those tipping points, those climaxes in your story?