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Monday, February 20, 2012

My Search for God

    I grew up going to the Episcopal Church.

    It was the same denomination that my father went to. When my mother was a young girl, she started going to the Methodist Church on her own. She just announced to her family one day, "I'm going to church". I have my parents to thank for putting me in an environment where I could learn about God.

    And I was a great Episcopalian child. I was involved in the youth group. I was an acolyte (that's an alter boy, for you Catholics!). I still remember my confirmation. The girls sat on one side of the isle, with their white dresses...some with white long gloves, and the boys sat on the other side in coats and ties. The bishop sat up front on a chair, holding his staff. And each one of us fourth graders would go up to him in turn, kneel before him, and kiss his ring. One of my fondest memories is him placing his hands on my head and saying, "May you grow in the gifts of the Spirit more and more." He would role his "r"'s when he'd speak. I did a lot of religious stuff when I was young. But it was mostly out of habit or to be "religious".

    My rebellious years started early when I was a teenager. I know everyone goes through that, but there seemed to be a lot of darkness present.  And during that entire time, I felt alone. There would be times when a quiz would be given to me on where I thought I fit in, and I couldn't find anything or any words that best described me. That lasted for quite a long time. I had friends, a few friends, who were there for me. Ones that always accepted me. Music was always with me. But I always felt that I was sitting at the end of a row away from everyone.

    It was in my sophmore year in high school that I started asking more questions about God. A female pro-basketball player visited our church youth group in Orinda, California. She spoke of how the Spirit of God would guide her. I didn't understand. What did that mean? I had grown up reciting the Nicene Creed week after week ("We believe in one God, the Father the Almighty..."), but wasn't a bit familiar with what she was talking about.

    And so I began my search for God.

    In high school I read a book, "Not Me God", in which God reaches out to a man and changed him. My chemistry partner let me borrow his Christian Rock records. I remember he was Lutheran. I was asking a lot of questions about how big God is and what did He have to do with me. It wasn't until I became a Freshman in college that I ran headlong into Him.

    In registering for my classes, I came across a table sponsored by Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. A man there named Sloan greeted me. Hippy-like. Long hair but trim beard. We talked and he took my name and address. The next night he was at my door. "Hey, Jim! Heading to a meeting, do you want to come along?" I was shocked. Didn't expect to see him again. But he took me to the Inter Varsity meeting where there was singing and a speaker. A man named Hank stood up and started talking about how each of us was like a house. "What do you do when you have a guest over to your house? Well, you vacuum the rug, or clean the windows. Maybe take out the trash. But when Jesus comes in, he's there to stay. And he's going to do some work. He'll nail in some floorboards, or add an addition. He'll do all the cleaning that you thought you did but was hidden in the darkness." His talk made an impression on me and, in spite of growing up in the church, I realized I didn't know that much about who Jesus was all about. One thing I did know...you don't let strangers into your house. So I committed myself to find out more about Jesus.

    I wanted to find a church. So, that night at 10:00 p.m., I decided to look for a church. I went walking in the dark down the main strip of the city looking for somewhere to go on Sunday. And I found myself looking way up at a huge stone Presbyterian Church when a guy on the corner started walking towards me. "Hey, are you looking for a church?" he called out. I replied that I was. "Well, are you looking for God?" And for the next 45 minutes, Mark started sharing how he was into drugs and Satanism, and how Jesus had rescued him. That's a pretty heavy thing to share with a stranger! He invited me to his church on Sunday and gave me a gospel tract.

    In the next few days I started asking more questions. I met with some of the other students and asked them how they met Jesus. That Sunday, I went to the church Mark had invited me to. Very different from the Episcopal Church! People were raising their hands and clapping. Then the minister stood up and started to talk about what it meant to be "born again". How Jesus wanted to come into my heart and change my life. How God's forgiveness was made possible by Jesus's death on the cross.
I could take a hint. I raised my hands and said, "Jesus, come into my life and change me!"

    And he has.

    I'm not saying that I'm perfect. There's still some floorboards that need fixing. And some leaks in the roof that need to be patched up. But I'm not alone. The greatest joy of my life is knowing that God loves me and He came near.

    You know, there are a number of people that say that God is high up on a mountain, and we're all around the mountain looking at Him from different perspectives. But what I believe is this...God came down from the mountain. Yes, we are all created by Him. Yes, He loves each one of you. He made you unique and wonderful. But the distance you feel from Him is not because God is hiding or He's keeping you from getting near. It's because each of us, in some way or another, made a choice. We chose to go our own way rather than His. We put ourselves on the throne of our life rather than putting God there. That's really what sin is all about. Choosing the lies rather than the truth. Or choosing to hold onto our anger against others rather than loving them as we were meant to. Or choosing the drugs, or the lust, or the hatred, or the selfishness, or the violence, or whatever else instead of Him. And it's like a wall that we set up between ourselves and the one who wants to fill us with life. And there's nothing that we can do to knock that wall down.

  But God came down from the mountain.

That's the point of Jesus. The Son of God came down to knock down that wall. We all have a choice...face the consequences of our sin, which is separation from God. Or let someone else pay the price. And Jesus looked at you, before you were even born, and loved you. Then he took on your sins while he hung on that cross. The price we were meant to pay, he paid for us. And to make it complete, to seal it forever, Jesus did something that would stand out for all time. He rose from the dead. To prove that everything he did and said were true, he got up out of the grave three days after he was killed. That's quite amazing.

    And he did it for you. That you would know life like you've never experienced it before. "Anyone who is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old things pass away...all things are made new." In believing in Jesus, he would wash those sins away and give you his Spirit to live in your heart. It would be like living water flowing from your heart. All you have to do is believe in Him. If you want those sins to be washed away, and be filled with the life he has for you, pray this prayer:

"Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.."

    There is no greater joy I know in life than to know Jesus. And God wants you to know him, too. If you did pray this prayer, join a Christian church and get connected with all those other sinners who are getting close to God. God wants you to draw near to Jesus and walk in this new life with others.

    With Jesus in my life, I'll never feel alone again.

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