The Main Thing

Fried chicken, biscuits and gravy after church … yum!

In a small town in north Georgia there is a little country church. This church played an important part in my childhood; in fact, some of my most vivid memories are from this church: the way the sunlight would shine thorough the tall, narrow stained glass windows; the slightly musty smell of the Sunday School rooms; the off-tune, honky-tonk sound of the piano; the way that if you dropped your offering during the service the coins would roll, unobstructed, all the way to the front of the church. It would be hot and humid in the church in summer, and I particularly remember the fold-out fans in the hymnal racks with a picture of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on one side, and an advertisement for “Peeples Funeral Home” on the other. I figured the church was trying to make some sort of point with those fans.

Drag queen Jesus prays in Gethsemane.

We would go to this church when we were at my mother’s parent’s house. This could be for year or more because my father, who was in the Army, would often be stationed at places overseas where we couldn’t go (like Korea and Vietnam). So every Sunday, we would get dressed up and make the short drive across town to church.

Mom made sure that our family always went to church, whether we were in Georgia, or living on an Army Base, or after Dad left the Army and retired to central Florida when I was about twelve. In Florida we went to a bigger, suburban church, but I went just because it was expected of me. Until I got into junior high, that is. In junior high, the hormones kicked in and I noticed girls, and life was never the same after that.

Since I was something of a nerd, I was looking for chances to meet nice girls where the competition wasn’t as fierce, and church looked like a good place to go. And it was, in fact; there were a lot of nice girls that I eventually I became good friends with, and even dated a few. I liked the social activities at church, but that was pretty much why I was going to church and getting involved in youth group. Any spiritual aspect was just a sideshow.

Does this place ever bring back memories …

But then things changed. The church got a new pastor, we got some different leadership in the youth group, and my friends changed. They started talking about “knowing Jesus” and “getting saved” and “becoming a Christian”; I had no idea what they were talking about. I, along with most of them, had been going to church all my life; why, all of a sudden, had they “become” a Christian? I couldn’t understand it, but I was too proud and too embarrassed to ask about it. I knew they had something I didn’t, but I wasn’t about to let them know. So, I struggled along for several months trying to pretend I fit in, but I was miserable.

Fortunately, God was merciful and didn’t let me remain in that condition. One evening, ironically while we were visiting my grandmother back in north Georgia, I heard a guy speak on television who told me what I wanted to know. He explained that God loved me and had plans for me, but that my disobedience had broken the relationship between us. Nothing I could do, no amount of good works, would be enough to restore the relationship. But God had sent his son, Jesus, to die for me to pay the penalty for my disobedience; what I had to do was to accept this free gift by telling God that I was depending on Jesus’ sacrifice to make things right with him, and that I wanted to live for God now instead of for myself.

This was what I was looking for, and it made sense to me. So, after we all went to bed I went back to my bedroom, got down on my knees, and asked God to forgive me. And God saved me that night (or, I gave my heart to Jesus, if you’re not a Calvinist).

Now, like I said earlier, I’m a nerd. I couldn’t accept all this on blind faith, and much of my life since then has been a search for truth, especially the truth about God and Christianity. I’m not a theologian, I don’t have a degree in theology, and to be honest I haven’t exactly dedicated my life to the study of theology and apologetics. I can’t prove that there is a God, or that the Bible is true, or that the Christian message of salvation is correct; I don’t believe that anyone can. But I do believe that it is reasonable to believe in a God, that the Bible is reliable, and that Christian salvation is the pathway to God. Some people’s encounter with God is more experiential, some more mystical; mine is more intellectual.

It’s not likely that this blog entry will convince anyone to become a Christian. But this is who I am.