Wednesday, September 24, 2014
“While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God's creation.” — Maya Angelou
Living with others is easy. It is living with myself that is difficult. I know where all of my skeletons are buried. There are many things, mostly very negative, that only I know about myself—I have not told another living being about them and will take them to my grave. God knows, too. That’s another part of it being difficult to live with myself. I didn’t become a Christian till I was in my forties. I was in my second year of seminary, had been a pastor for six years, yet still was not really a Christian. I looked like one from the outside, but that is an easy thing to do, as millions have learned. I read a statement the other day from a man who said he was a Christian but would kill any illegal children who came across his property. I can think of many things I would call a man like this, but Christian would never be among them. He may go to church every Sunday, may teach Sunday School, may give large amounts of money to his church, may sing in the choir, may pray every day—but none of these makes him, or anyone, a Christian. You become a Christian when you give yourself to Christ, ask Him to forgive your sins, and then live a life that becomes the Gospel. Killing children is not something Christians do, although many have done it, ostensibly in God’s name. So, I knew how to look like a Christian, how so say all the right things, how to do all the right things, but I wasn’t a Christian. I was sort of forced to attend a Christian men’s spiritual retreat called “Walk to Emmaus” in 1990 at a retreat center in Peacedale, Rhode Island. I only went because one of my professor’s insisted, and I thought maybe I could help some other poor souls who had to attend as well. On the afternoon of the second day I could stand it no longer, and I excused myself from the group, went to an empty chapel and for the first time, asked for forgiveness for myself so that I could finally live with myself. I had sinned much, so I took a yellow legal pad and listed as many specific sins as I could remember and quite a few general ones. I filled eight pages, single spaced. I then asked God if He would forgive all of them. My heart led me to the altar where a brass bowl sat in the middle with candles on each side. I put the pages I had written in the bowl, and, striking a match I found near the candles, I set fire to those pages of sins, dropped to my knees and watched as the smoke drifted upward being absorbed by God. My heart was lighter than it had ever been. I also set off the smoke alarm and a priest came in to see what was wrong (it was a Catholic retreat center). I explained what I had done, and all he said was, "Welcome." He asked if he could keep the ashes to use at the next Ash Wednesday service, and I agreed it would be good use for them. I understood for the very first time that Christ had died for me without ever knowing me and as bad as I had been. Freed from the shackles of my sins, I went back to the main group with a lighter step than you would think my weight would allow. When one of the men at my table asked me where I had been, I replied, “I went to become a Christian, and now I am.” From that day to this, I take everything that Christ said very seriously and try to live my life accordingly. I know I still stumble and fall, but now I never hit the ground as I fall into the waiting arms of my savior still willing to forgive as long as I forgive those who hurt me. Whether there is a heaven or a hell is no longer relevant for me, how I live every day is what is important to Christ and it is He I want to please—not to anticipate a reward or to fear punishment, but because it is the right thing to do for me, for now, forever.