(previously published 1/14)
I am a Christian of 44 years. I was 10 when I went forward at the Thornton Ave Baptist Church in Fremont California. The night before I couldn’t sleep, I was afraid, terrifyingly so, and as I lay there refusing to wake my parents only to hear their groans of “Here she is again” I asked Jesus to take away my fears and let me sleep. I knew after I woke that I would have to go forward in church that morning, (my bargain for the promise of sleep) and I was so nervous that I sat in the front row all through service so I wouldn’t have far to walk.
At that time you went forward in church when making a commitment to become a Christian. “Going forward” was the commonly used phrase among church folk to describe your public declaration, “Did he/she go forward?”, “How many went forward?”, “Oh you went forward!”. While the pastor delivered his sermon I listened attentively to every word, even nodding when I agreed with something he said (a future “Amener” in the making). My parents and little sister were sitting off to the side somewhere. I didn’t pay attention, I had a date with the alter and needed all my courage to keep it.
When Pastor Bourne prayed his closing prayer, gave his invitation and the organ began the hymn “Just As I Am” I jumped up and went. Unbeknownst to me my father, watching me me, decided he couldn’t leave me there alone so he shepherded my mom and sister out of their pew to stand with me. Dad wasn’t a Christian and he didn’t make a midnight bargain with Jesus and he didn’t know about mine. As he tells it he felt the Holy Spirit descend on him the moment he stepped up there and knew that he needed to make a decision to follow Jesus. My mother was beside herself, her prayers were answered and she now had the Christian Family she dreamed of.
I love Jesus, He is everything to me and I can’t imagine my life without Him walking ahead of me, leading the way. I never wish to have a George Bailey type “Day Without Jesus” experience. However, I won’t lie, for all it’s rewards the Christian life is hard. I have a friend who says “This life is the Christian’s hell and the sinner’s heaven”. There is truth in that phrase. Jesus even said that if the world hated Him it would hate us. It almost reads that if you aren’t hated you might be doing something wrong?! Hmmm. Contrary to the mass market Christian book, speaker and newsletter club this life wasn’t meant to be our best one ever. We are pilgrims, wanderers, strangers in a strange land, this isn’t our permanent residence. There is a next life, a permanent home, a glorified body (Praise The Lord!) and hopefully the words, “Well Done”. If that means difficulties, challenges, suffering and sacrifice I’ll take it. I won’t go looking for it but if it comes so be it.
As Americans we are conditioned to think it’s our Right to live Christian lives publicly and freely without recrimination. I read/listen to the church world lament the passing of a more Christian time in history for Americans, and how the ability to freely and publicly proclaim your Christian faith is becoming harder. Probably. My husband’s parents’ and grandparents’ generations faced discrimination because of their Pentecostal heritage. They were considered strange, chandelier swinging, rolling in the aisle, tongue speaking oddities. They were swept out of their Baptist church and out of town for coming into Pentecost (another obsolete church phrase). At that point in history our country was the epitome of Christian values on the surface, unless you spoke in tongues, then you were of the devil. Granted it looked strange and was highly emotional but it wasn’t criminal, surely not something to be swept out of town for. I’m blessed to live in a generation that inspects fruit more than it judges gifts but Grandma and Grandpa Johnson weren’t so lucky. I also can’t help but conclude that being a Christian in any era of history brings it’s own kind of challenges, even in America, if you’re doing it right.
When our girls were young my daily prayer with them was “Jesus, please be their first love, always”. Somewhere deep down I knew that whoever or whatever they loved most would win influence for their choices in life. Think about chocolate and what you’ll do to get a piece (or substitute a chosen vice). Some days the battle is lost to another but what I’m in it for is the war and to date that one is still being won by Jesus. I pray that it is always so, every year I grow to love Him more. It isn’t easy, I don’t expect it to be anymore, but is it worth it? Absolutely. Even without the promise of heaven I wouldn’t trade the peace I’ve known through the hard times for a life without Jesus.
In 44 years He’s never let me down.